The banner is coming down, momentarily, so Joel Ward can get the proper recognition he deserves.
The banner sporting his No. 22 jersey was raised to the rafters at MacLauchlan Arena on the UPEI campus in August 2016. But Friends of UPEI Men’s Hockey officials are excited to have the NHL veteran come back to the province during alumni weekend.
“Joel’s banner is going to be re-raised to the rafters,” explained Panthers alumni Dave Shellington. “It’s a good chance to honour Joel. . . I think it’s important we make sure that he is recognized in the proper way.”
Before Saturday’s final home game of the regular season with the St. FX X-Men, Ward will be introduced and get a chance to watch the banner raised while surrounded by many people he played with and in front of.
“It’s going to be pretty special,” Ward said Tuesday night. “It’s going to bring back a lot of memories for sure. I’m glad that some of the guys are going to make a trip down for the alumni (weekend) and I get a chance to see some old faces again.”
Ward played four seasons with the Panthers (2001-05) then went to the AHL and the NHL, where he played 726 games, including 52 last season with the San Jose Sharks in the final year of his contract.
“I have a hard time saying retirement,” Ward said when asked about his current status.
He was hoping to get another opportunity in the NHL, but it hasn't occurred yet. He has had chances to play overseas but has decided to stay in North America.
“Realistically, I know the chances are pretty slim,” he said. “I am starting to kind of slowly turn the page. My wife and I are expecting a little boy . . . in April.”
Ward is a humble man who still finds it weird to say his jersey was raised to the rafters. The university doesn’t retire numbers.
“Going to school there, way back when, I just never envisioned something like this to happen today,” Ward said. “I was just happy to be going to school to get my education and play some hockey along the way.”
Ward was not sure if he will get a chance to speak to those wearing the Panthers jersey today. But, if he does, his message will be simple.
“Believe in yourselves and dream big. If a guy like myself can do it, anybody can do it,” he said.
Ward said he admires the players who are able to balance their education and athletics and persevere.
“Being a student-athlete is, to me, one of the toughest things somebody could ever do,” said Ward, who graduated with a sociology degree from UPEI while learning life lessons along the way. “It’s a grind. It kind of made me a lot stronger player, mentally and physically.”