Although Carolina Hurricanes
goalie Cam Ward
is in only his fourth NHL season, he's well known to New Jersey Devils
goalie Martin Brodeur
Brodeur knows him because Ward and the Hurricanes beat the Devils in five games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2006, en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Ward that year became the first rookie in 20 years to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Brodeur is one of the most astute observers among active players and because he knows the position, can see when other goalies make adjustments, when they're playing with confidence, and when they are dealing with injuries.
"When I've watched Cam lately, I see he's playing with confidence," Brodeur said. "When you're on top of your game, you play with confidence and right now he is confident."
Ward had great success as a rookie, but struggled the next two seasons and the Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs. He began adding weight in his second season to be bigger in net, but found he was quicker and more effective this season at a lower weight with increased fitness.
He's also been coached the past two seasons by former NHL goalie Tom Barrasso
, who enjoyed great rookie success in 1984 with the Buffalo Sabres
when he won the Vezina and Calder trophies.
Brodeur played against Barrasso and was asked if he could see elements of Barrasso's game in Ward's play.
"How aggressive he is compared to the past. He's going to go through traffic to get his position and Tommy was like that," Brodeur said. "I loved the way Tom played, how he challenged players, those big rebounds he gave up that went away from people, the way he handles the puck more aggressively than in the past. I loved those things about Tommy's game.
"He had a great year," Brodeur said. "How much he played in the last half of the year, and how consistent he was, shows a lot about a goalie. He had success and then the last couple of years were a little tougher. But now he has his game back where he wants it. Going on that streak late in the season, it's easier to do it earlier in the season than later when it counts and when every team is hungry -- he's been impressive.
"You go blind into the playoffs when you are a kid, you don't know what to expect and the expectations aren't too high. When you do come through and have some success, then people say he's able to do it. That pressure builds up. As an athlete, that's how you want to build yourself up, with success. As a goalie, I know I can play under pressure and Cam got that through the big playoff success that he had."
Ward is extremely soft-spoken and modest and Brodeur is his idol. He beamed when Brodeur's comments were related to him.
"That's nice of Marty to say those nice things. It means a lot to me to hear that coming from a guy like that," Ward said. "It's probably accurate. I'm a lucky guy to have Tom Barrasso
as a goaltending coach. A lot of the areas that I needed to work on this year were the areas of Tom's strengths when he played. For example, playing the puck and positioning.
"I can see where Marty is coming from and there's no question that Tom Barrasso
has helped me out a great deal. Let's just say I probably wouldn't be having the success that I'm having if it wasn't for Tom," Ward told Hurricanes.com. "I can't say enough about the guy. He's not only my goaltending coach but he's a good friend and he's helped me tremendously on and off the ice."
"When I look back at last year the thing that was most inconsistent about Cam was probably his preparation for games," Barrasso said. "I don't think he had a clear understanding of what he needed to do to allow himself to play at the highest level every day.
"It's hard work to be focused and to be sharp all the time," Barrasso said. "With this stretch he's been on recently you've seen a level of consistency night in and night out that was not as readily noticeable a year ago, and yet he still had a great run at the end of last year. This year, he's learned so much about himself, so he's probably finding it easier to play at this level than he did a year ago."