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Joel Ward to have his banner re-raised during UPEI Panthers men's hockey alumni weekend

<p>Joel Ward was honoured with a banner raised in MacLauchlan Arena during a ceremony on Thursday.</p>
<p>Joel Ward was honoured with a banner raised in MacLauchlan Arena during a ceremony on Thursday.</p> - Jason Malloy
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

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.

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2017, file photo, San Jose Sharks right wing Joel Ward lines up against the Arizona Coyotes during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Glendale, Ariz. Ward tells The Mercury News he might take a knee during the national anthem at an upcoming game, becoming the first NHL player to join the protests that started in the NFL and drew criticism from President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2017, file photo, San Jose Sharks right wing Joel Ward lines up against the Arizona Coyotes during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Glendale, Ariz. Ward tells The Mercury News he might take a knee during the national anthem at an upcoming game, becoming the first NHL player to join the protests that started in the NFL and drew criticism from President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

“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.”

RELATED: Click here for the story from the 2016 banner event.

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.”

RELATED: Click here for Ward's career statistics on hockeydb.com.

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.”


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