Tuesday night, when Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward took the ice, he became only the fifth active goaltender to appear in 500 games.
While his career has been tumultuous at times and it appears as though his days in Carolina are numbered, Ward will go down as the greatest goaltender in the history of the club formerly known as the Hartford Whalers. He has suited up in more games, has more wins (by more than 100), has made more saves and has posted more shutouts than any goaltender that has ever stepped between the pipes for the franchise.
It’s only fitting, then, that on this day we count down the five best moments of Ward’s career, all but one of which has come as a member of the club.
5. Ward gets the goal
Christmas came a day late for Ward and his gift came off the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk.
On Dec. 26, 2011 in a Boxing Day contest between the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes, Ward was credited with a goal after a Kovalchuk blooper etched Ward’s name in the history book alongside the 11 other netminders who have been credited with a tally.
With Carolina up 3-2 and the New Jersey net empty, Ward made a stop on Patrik Elias and the puck ricocheted into the corner. Kovalchuk passed the puck back and forth with Zach Parise before trying to move the puck back to Adam Henrique. The puck slid past Henrique and made its way into the open cage for Ward’s first career goal. Sometimes great moments are born out of being in the right place at the right time.
4. Left-handed larceny on Keith Ballard
If you quickly look up Ward’s name on YouTube, you’ll find a number of incredible highlights, most of which are of the miraculous save variety. There was his glove save in the Stanley Cup final on Radek Dvorak, his stick save on Colin Greening and the paddle stop on Bryan Little. But a lot of those can be chalked up to blind luck – as much Ward making the save as the shooter erring on the shot.
That’s why the Ballard stop stands out. Ballard isn’t firing and praying to find the back of the net and he doesn’t simply let a shot fly into the wide open cage. Instead, Ballard stops this pass from Mason Raymond, loads up his shot at the open net,takes aim and is absolutely robbed by Ward’s glove.
What a save.
3. Conn Ward
The 2005-06 Stanley Cup run by the Carolina Hurricanes was led by the play of Ward and, as such, he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. In 23 postseason games, Ward went 15-8, posted a .920 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.14 to go along with two shutouts.
The 22-year-old Ward’s playoff numbers were eerily similar to those of a 20-year-old Patrick Roy, who won the Conn Smythe in his rookie season going 15-5 with a .925 SP, 1.92 GAA and one shutout.
2. Ward is Golden in Russia
Canada was coming off of a disappointing fourth place finish heading into the 2007 IIHF World Championship, which was to be held in Russia. After the Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs, finishing just four points outside postseason, Ward was invited to participate in the World Championship tournament as one of Canada’s two goaltenders.
Along with veteran netminder Dwayne Roloson, Ward backstopped Canada to a 3-0-0 record in the preliminary round. Roloson got the call for the Canadians in the quarterfinals against the Swiss, picking up the win 5-1, but coach Andy Murray went with Ward for the semifinal matchup with Sweden.
Ward held the Swedes to one goal on 29 shots and followed that up with a 20 save performance in Canada’s 4-2 gold medal game victory over the Finns. It was Ward’s first appearance in international play for Canada. The following year he participated in another World Championship, helping Canada to the silver medal.
1. Rookie keeper steals Stanley Cup for Hurricanes
When Ward made his first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2005-06, he had faced a grand total of 773 NHL shots. He had suited up in 28 games for the Hurricanes, had a record of 14-8-2, a .882 SP and 3.68 GAA. He was just about the unlikeliest hero the Hurricanes could have had on their run to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Unlikely or not, he instantly became a Carolina hockey legend.
By leading the Hurricanes to the Cup, Ward became just the third rookie goaltender in NHL history to backstop his team to the Stanley Cup, with the others being Roy and Ken Dryden. Ward was honored with the aforementioned Conn Smythe.
In 2011, Ward became part of one of the greatest sports ad campaigns ever, as his play in the 2006 playoffs was given the “History Will Be Made” treatment by the NHL.