Black­hawks’ Ward mum on start­ing against Hur­ri­canes

The News & Observer - - Front Page - BY CHIP ALEXAN­DER calexan­der@new­sob­server.com

First, the ob­vi­ous ques­tion: would Cam Ward be in net for the Chicago Black­hawks on Thurs­day when they hosted the Carolina Hur­ri­canes?

“Oh, you know I can’t say that,” Ward said Wed­nes­day.

Then again, the two teams play again Mon­day in Raleigh. What about be­ing the start­ing goal­tender in his re­turn game to PNC Arena, again fac­ing his for­mer team?

“I hope so, but that’s to be de­ter­mined, I guess,” Ward said.

That will be the coach’s call and as of Tues­day the Black­hawks had a new one. Joel Quen­neville, win­ner of three Stan­ley Cups, was fired af­ter the Black­hawks’ 6-6-3 start, and Jeremy Col­li­ton was named as his re­place­ment.

“It’s been crazy, with the coach­ing change,” Ward said in an in­ter­view. “It’s not some­thing as a team that you want to see or go through. We’re mak­ing that tran­si­tion now and go­ing through the ex­pec­ta­tions of what Jeremy wants to get out of his play­ers.

“Per­son­ally, it caught me by sur­prise. I’ve only been here for a short pe­riod of time and un­for­tu­nately didn’t get to know ‘Q’ as much as I would have liked. You had to re­spect what he did in his coach­ing ca­reer and in this or­ga­ni­za­tion the past decade.”

Col­li­ton, who was coach­ing the Rock­ford IceHogs of the AHL, is 33, the youngest coach in the NHL. Ward is 34.

“Def­i­nitely some­thing new, to be older than the head coach,” Ward said. “I played against Jeremy in ju­nior. He was with the Prince Albert Raiders.”

Asked if Col­li­ton scored on him in the Western Hockey League, Ward chuck­led. “Oh, I can’t re­mem­ber. It’s hard to re­mem­ber all the peo­ple who scored on me. There’s been too many.”

In 13 sea­sons with the Hur­ri­canes, Ward won a Stan­ley Cup and was the fran­chise goalie, set­ting many fran­chise records.

He made the com­mute to work from his North Raleigh home – the one he still owns – and be­came part of the com­mu­nity.

Then, he was gone. The Canes did not pur­sue a new con­tract with Ward af­ter last sea­son, and he signed as a free agent with the Black­hawks in July.

Ward was brought in on a one-year, $3 mil­lion con­tract to be the backup for Corey Craw­ford, giv­ing the Black­hawks an­other vet­eran goalie as Craw­ford con­tin­ued to re­cover from con­cus­sion symp­toms that lin­gered from last sea­son.

I’M RE­ALLY NOT SURE WHAT THE EMO­TIONS ARE GO­ING TO BE LIKE WHEN I COME BACK TO CAROLINA AND WALK INTO PNC AGAIN AND NOT GO TO THE HUR­RI­CANES’ SIDE.

Cam Ward

Ward started the first five games. He won the first two in over­time, at Ot­tawa and St. Louis, then gave up seven goals to Toronto in his first start at the United Cen­ter in a wild 7-6 over­time loss.

In eight games, he has a 3-2-3 record with a 3.83 goal-against aver­age and .887 save per­cent­age, num­bers that have had some Black­hawks fans cast­ing some of the blame at him af­ter Quen­neville’s fir­ing. Craw­ford is 3-4-0 with a 2.92 GAA and .907 save per­cent­age, los­ing his last three starts.

“When I look at my games, you want to base it off how you feel and how you per­formed and not get too deep a dive into the num­bers, be­cause they can be skewed,” Ward said. “Toronto was the one game I felt like I was off. Other­wise I feel when I’ve played I’ve been able to try to give this team a chance to win and that’s what I’m striv­ing to do.”

Ward said slip­ping into a Black­hawks uni­form for the first time was slightly sur­real.

“The first time I did it, you take a sec­ond and rec­og­nize this is dif­fer­ent,” he said. “But with that said, there’s also ex­cite­ment, too. There’s a lot of his­tory with this fran­chise. You think of all the spe­cial play­ers who have been able to wear this jer­sey and wear it proudly.”

Ward moved the fam­ily to Chicago, into a high­rise apart­ment down­town – as he put it, “Right in the mix of ev­ery­thing.”

“As long as my fam­ily is happy I’m happy, and it’s been a smooth tran­si­tion with my kids and get­ting into their new schools,” he said.

Ward de­scribed him­self as feel­ing like the new kid in school with his new team. It has taken a while, he said, to be him­self.

“I’m a guy who likes to have fun and do some pranks and get in­volved with ev­ery­body,” he said. “I did find my­self be­ing the new quiet kid for a while. Just get used to your new sur­round­ings. It’s such a big change from Carolina.”

Ward said he planned to drop by the Canes’ team ho­tel Wed­nes­day night, just a few blocks away, and see some fa­mil­iar faces. He said he keeps “close tabs” on the Hur­ri­canes, say­ing, “There are guys over there I genu- in­ely care about.”

Coach Rod Brind’Amour, Canes cap­tain Justin Wil­liams, Ward … they won the Cup to­gether in 2006. And there are so many oth­ers to see, long­time friends.

Then, the quick turn­around and next week’s game at PNC Arena. Again, it should be sur­real.

“I’m re­ally not sure what the emo­tions are go­ing to be like when I come back to Carolina and walk into PNC again and not go to the Hur­ri­canes’ side,” Ward said. “At the same time, in a sense, I feel like I’ll be com­ing home.”

Ward said the fam­ily would be with him in Raleigh. It’s also the Black­hawks’ “Dads Trip” and his fa­ther, Ken, will be with him.

“I’ll for­ever be grate­ful for what the Hur­ri­canes or­ga­ni­za­tion and the fan base, the com­mu­nity and friends have all done for me,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, I can look back at all the great mem­o­ries I had over the years in that city. The plan doesn’t change that it’s where I want to re­tire and re­side.

“That said, we want to beat them in th­ese two games. Don’t get that twisted.”

CHRIS SE­WARD cse­ward@new­sob­server.com

Cam Ward cel­e­brates a Carolina Hur­ri­canes vic­tory in an April 7 game against the Tampa Bay Light­ning in Raleigh. In 13 sea­sons with the Hur­ri­canes, Ward won a Stan­ley Cup and was the fran­chise goalie, set­ting many fran­chise records. Now he plays for Chicago.

JIM MONE AP

Chicago Black­hawks goalie Cam Ward warms up be­fore a game on Oct. 11. Ward signed as a free agent with the Black­hawks in July.

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