The Henderson Silver Knights have rounded out the coaching staff for the team, hiring Joel Ward and Jamie Heward to serve as assistant coaches under Manny Viveiros.
Heward has a tremendous track record of coaching and development after a playing career that spanned over 1,200 games in both the NHL and minor leagues. He will be a tremendous part of the staff and really help the young Silver Knights players.
Ward is someone I know well from my time in Nashville, and one of the best people I’ve met in hockey. The fact that the undrafted Ward made his mark in the NHL for 726 games is remarkable, but no surprise to those who have met him. For a guy who didn’t get to sign his first pro deal until the age of 25, he’s an anomaly. For players who want to know what hard work and dedication can do for your career, he’s a beacon. And as someone who has overcome long odds to become a two-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL he’s an inspiration.
When Ward Finally Stuck
My first training camp in Nashville was Ward’s first with Nashville, in 2008. I was hired late in the fall, starting work one week into camp. Since I didn’t have much time to learn the team I leaned on my new colleagues and a very honest Barry Trotz who put up with my questions about players I’m sure everyone else knew far more about. Trotz surprised a few people towards the end of camp when he let slip that it looked like Joel Ward was going to make the team. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t really much on the radar headed into camp. Likely he was penciled in to the Milwaukee Admirals lineup, a potential call-up guy. But Ward came in to camp, busted his butt, and made the team with hustle and heart.
From that day on, Ward did not play in the AHL again. He would record ten straight seasons of NHL service. Twice he tore it up in the playoffs with seven goals – once with Nashville, once with San Jose. From time to time, Ward would flash a set of sweet, buttery mitts and score goals that made your jaw drop.
A Long, Strange Trip
Ward did all of this the long way. He played four years of Canadian junior hockey and wasn’t drafted. So after his fourth year with Owen Sound, he played eight playoff games for the WCHL’s Long Beach Ice Dogs recording no points or PIMs. Because he could still attend university in Canada and play, he did. Ward went to the University of Prince Edward Island and played four years, graduating with a degree in sociology.
It was only then, at the age of 25 that he signed a pro contract with the AHL’s Houston Aeros. His mom cheering him on. Sadly, Ward’s father passed away when he was just 14 years old. But Ward has said many times that his dad was there on his journey with him, too.
Any time the organization, a broadcaster like me, or a fan asked anything of Joel Ward, he would oblige. Autographs, appearances, interviews, all with a smile. You really got the sense that Ward appreciated where he was and what he was doing. You might not realize how rare that kind of player is, but trust me. They don’t come along very often.
With Henderson, I expect Ward will be able to teach directly from his experience. Young players and veterans alike can appreciate his story. There’s no secret in the sauce, it comes from hard work and dedication. Those are core principles any player who hopes to make the NHL one day should learn. Ward has seen it all. He’s ridden the busses, played to empty houses and escaped notice. But he’s also flown on the charters, put on the uniform, and scored a playoff Game 7 game-winning-goal.
Ward is also someone who can speak to the character it takes to make it. He can talk to a young player not only about the highs but about the lows and how to manage them. He will be able to contribute not only to the physical development of a player but the mental side as well. And he will do it all with a smile and as a valued member of the organization and community.
Kudos to Henderson on a tremendous hire. Well done, Wardo.