RALEIGH, N.C. -- Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward will play his 500th NHL game Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers. He doesn't want to make a big deal out of it, but it's clear this is a time for reflection.
"I think about all the people who helped me get to this point in my career, beginning with my parents who gave me the chance to play the game I love," Ward said. "I'm thankful for all the coaches and teammates I've been a part of until now."
Goalie - CAR
GAA: 2.39 | SVP: .913
Ward's career arc has been bittersweet. As a rookie, he was launched into stardom when he took over as the starting goaltender in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs, helping Carolina win the Stanley Cup and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. He smiles when reminded he isn't the first professional athlete to enjoy success early only to be left searching for that pinnacle experience as the years roll on.
"You immediately think, 'Oh, I will probably get (to the playoffs) again.' You soon realize how difficult it is to get back there," Ward said. "I'm now in my 10th year in the League, and chances are it will be 2-for-10 (reaching the playoffs). I definitely would appreciate it a lot more, knowing how difficult it is to get back into that situation."
The Hurricanes are on pace to miss the playoffs for the sixth straight season. Ward knows he played a role in some of those down years. His performance suffered as he battled injuries, and eventually his outlook on the game changed too. But before the start of the season, he took a hard a look in the mirror.
"These last few years have been real difficult on myself," he said. "It was more my mental state, where I needed to hit the reset button and get back to enjoying the game and having some fun out there. That's been the big difference for me this year. I'm not worrying about what's going to happen. I'm just enjoying the game and enjoying life, and it's going a lot better this year."
Ward's 2.39 goals-against average is the best of his career. He is handling tough chances as well as he has in years. Bad goals have been few and far between.
When he takes the net Tuesday, he will become the fourth active goalie to reach the milestone behind Henrik Lundqvist (613) of the New York Rangers, Marc-Andre Fleury (578) of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ryan Miller (540) of the Vancouver Canucks. Being mentioned in that company is another reason Ward is grateful.
"When you list those three goaltenders, that's three of the top goaltenders in the League," he says. "I'm so thankful for the opportunities the Hurricanes have given me. My wife and I consider Raleigh home. I love it here. This is where we want to win again."