When the Carolina Hurricanes
open training camp next month, recently acquired defenseman Aaron Ward
plans on walking right up to forward Scott Walker
and eliminating any awkwardness that still may exist between the two.
Ward, who won a Stanley Cup with the 'Canes in 2006, was re-acquired by the club July 24 from the Boston Bruins
in exchange for forward Patrick Eaves
and a fourth-round draft choice in 2010. The Bruins, you'll recall, saw their season end abruptly when the Hurricanes eliminated them in the second round of this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In Game 5 of that series, Ward was the victim of a punch to the face from Walker that dropped him to the ice. Now, roughly three months later, they're teammates.
"I can get him back in practice," Ward joked. "You know, those are things that happen during a game. It's water under the bridge. I'm on his team now. I've known him for a while. There's a lot of emotion involved in playoffs. I'll see Scott Walker
when he comes in and shake his hand. I'll tell him how grateful I am to be here and I'm excited to play with him and it'll be in the past."
Carolina is coming off an exciting season that ended with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. Having played in Raleigh from 2001 until that magical championship campaign three years ago, Ward is excited about seeing plenty of familiar faces in the locker room once camp gets under way.
"I know the majority of the players," said Ward, who turns 37 in January. "The core group of players that exists in this locker room is pretty similar to the one that was here in 2006. Obviously, you have to get yourself acclimated to some of the partners you might have. (Joni) Pitkanen's new to me, (Joe) Corvo's new. Andrew Alberts
isn't. I played with him in Boston. There's some familiarity there.
"I'd be happy to play with anybody," Ward added. "Just tell me where to be, and I'll be there."
Given their different styles, there's a decent chance that Ward will end up being partnered with Pitkanen, who had 33 points in 71 games last season. Ward, a stay-at-home blueliner with more than 700 NHL games on his resume, believes it could be a perfect match.
"We may have complementary styles," Ward said. "He's a gifted skater. He's offensively talented. It may allow him to be more risky in his approach to the game. My role with Zdeno Chara
(in Boston) was to kind of put him in a situation to be successful -- give him the puck at all opportunities. Maybe that's the same approach I take with a Pitkanen."
Whatever happens this season, nobody in Carolina will be more excited about having Ward back than his family. His wife, Kelly, son Liam and daughter Libby settled there earlier in the decade and never left. Ward signed with the New York Rangers
as a free agent in the summer of 2006 and was traded to Boston the following year for defenseman Paul Mara
"My family's obviously pretty familiar with Carolina ... we've been here since 2001," said Ward, who heard about the deal while golfing with some members of Kid Rock's band. "We've made it our permanent home. It's an easy transition for us."