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Sharks forward Ward adjusting after leaving Capitals

by Katie Brown

WASHINGTON -- San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward has experienced more than a few changes in his life over the past few months.

After four seasons with the Washington Capitals, Ward tested the free agent market and signed a three-year, $9.8 million contract with the San Jose Sharks on July 3.

With the Sharks set to play the Capitals at Verizon Center on Tuesday, Ward is adjusting not only to a new team, but a new way of life on the West Coast.

"[Washington] was definitely home for a while, so you're used to it, the simple drive to Kettler [Iceplex] every morning from where I was, so now it's about learning new things," Ward said. "I've got to find a new drycleaner, a new barber shop, all the little things I've got to go through now."

This summer, the Capitals had several restricted free agents to re-sign, were looking to upgrade their top six and didn't have a lot of money to play with. Ward's price tag was a little too steep for them.

"The writing was sort of on the wall a little bit," Ward said. "After the season, you kind of thought you'd be back, but as the summer dwindled down, I kind of figured that it wasn't going that way. So I kind of wrapped my head around that and understood that, they made some moves and I had to move on as well."

At 34, Ward has made his living as a versatile two-way forward with a bit of mystique surrounding his performances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His teammates and coaches, current and former, all praise his infectious personality and work ethic.

"[Ward is] one of those guys who does all of the right things in the games and is very detailed," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "His personality itself is contagious. Anytime you see a guy like that, those guys always have friends in hockey because they're such great teammates, and for coaches they're still great guys to coach."

Trotz coached Ward at the start of his NHL career with the Nashville Predators and again last season with the Capitals.

Ward has 35 points in 53 NHL playoff games and signed with the Capitals in 2011 in the hopes that his ability to elevate his performance in the postseason would help propel them to a Stanley Cup.

He might be best known for scoring the game-winning goal against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in Game 7 of an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series in 2012.

"He's a guy that you want in your dressing room," Capitals forward Jay Beagle said. "He keeps it light when he needs to, serious when he needs to, and as a player he steps up in big moments. You're always looking for guys on the team that can step up in those big moments and he's the definition of a playoff player."

Washington missed the playoffs in 2014 for the first time in seven seasons but hired Trotz over the summer and promptly rebounded. The Sharks missed the playoffs last season and like the Capitals, still haven't won a Cup. This season, the Sharks look poised to re-enter the postseason under new coach Peter DeBoer.

"He's exactly what we needed," DeBoer said. "We were trying to address some of our 5-on-5 scoring and defending issues and he's that type of player. He's as honest as they come and plays an honest game."

These similarities to the Capitals are part of what drew Ward to San Jose, in the hopes of finding the success there that escaped him in Washington. DeBoer said he pinpointed Ward early on as a player that was on the top of his list of available free-agents.

"I felt he was the perfect complement to our group, particularly for what was ailing our group last year," DeBoer said. "He's willing to go to dirty areas and do dirty work on the defensive side of the puck. Those were all the boxes that I wanted checked for what we needed to improve on and it was all in one package with one guy."

Ward still keeps in touch with several of his former teammates in Washington, including some that moved on to other teams last summer.

Capitals forward Jason Chimera was close with Ward in Washington and the two correspond often. Last season, Trotz referred to Chimera and Ward as "the twins" since they played on the same line and were often seen together off the ice.

Chimera is glad Ward ended up in a place he likes, but admits it was hard to see him go.

"You always wish well, especially good people," Chimera said. "There was a chance we wouldn't sign some guys next year and he was one of those guys. That's an unfortunate part of business that you lose good people and lose good teammates."

Ward is settling into life in California nicely, though he said watching the Baltimore Ravens, his favorite NFL team, has been tough because of the time difference.

Other than that, he's enjoying the experience.

"It's pretty chill," Ward said. "It's been a good transition. Obviously when you're in familiar territory for a couple of years, you're so used to times and practice schedules and workouts and whatnot, so just getting ahead of those things and learning those things a little bit more is going to be pretty helpful. It's just a matter of getting used to things, and a good group of guys here has made it pretty easy so far."

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