Blackhawks goalie Ward ready to thrive in Chicago

 
 
Updated 7/29/2018 8:49 PM
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  • New Chicago Blackhawks goalie Cam Ward said he's excited to play in front of such an energetic fan base. Before signing a 1-year deal with the Hawks, Ward spent 13 seasons with Carolina.

    New Chicago Blackhawks goalie Cam Ward said he's excited to play in front of such an energetic fan base. Before signing a 1-year deal with the Hawks, Ward spent 13 seasons with Carolina. Associated Press File Photo/March 2018

The questions came at Cam Ward faster than an 80-mph slap shot.

One after another for a whopping 20 minutes.

Ward -- the new backup goaltender for the Blackhawks -- was absolutely surrounded while sitting at a table inside the Waldorf Room of the Chicago Hilton before the team's convention kicked off Friday.

After it was over, Ward must have had a Wizard of Oz moment and realized: He's not in Carolina anymore.

"Even coming here to the hotel today, I kind of got lost," Ward said. "And then walking through the lobby, people were pouncing on (me). I've heard many things about the convention and the impact and the buzz fans can create.

"That gives me goose bumps, knowing you're coming to a city, to an organization, to a fan base that really loves and has a passion for hockey. I'm excited about going to the United Center."

Ward, whom the Hawks signed to a one-year, $3 million deal on July 1 to be Corey Crawford's backup, spent his entire 13-year career with the Hurricanes. He helped lead them to a Stanley Cup in 2006, but Carolina only qualified for the playoffs one other time during his tenure (2009).

Now, he's on a team with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. A team that has won three Stanley Cups since 2010, and one that failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years last season.

"What excites me is the history," Ward said. "These guys aren't far removed from winning the Stanley Cup three times in six years.

"Last year things didn't go as well as they had hoped. But that also brings hunger to the players that, 'Let's not do that ever again.' "

Ward has 668 NHL games under his belt, winning 318 times. Those are numbers that certainly appealed to Stan Bowman when the Hawks GM decided he needed something more than Anton Forsberg as an insurance policy in case Crawford isn't ready to go or is lost for a significant portion of the season.

So could Ward start 40, 50 or even 60 games if disaster strikes?

"I'm prepared to do whatever's asked of me," Ward said. "It's tough. You go into a season and you never know what to expect."

Indeed.

Just like in Chicago, where Crawford missed the last 47 games with an injury, Carolina also had to go to Plan B when Scott Darling struggled in his first campaign as a No. 1 netminder. Carolina was in decent shape in late December at 18-12-7, but a 3-9-2 stretch from Feb. 15 to March 17 essentially ended any playoff hopes.

Ward went 12-13-2 with a .900 save percentage after Jan. 4. His .907 mark over the last four years ranks 49th out of 55 goalies who have appeared in at least 80 games, and his 2.55 goals-against average ranks 22nd.

These are not exactly awe-inspiring numbers, but we pause here to remember that Ward didn't exactly have Keith, Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya in front of him.

"He had some seasons where, quite frankly, he wasn't necessarily at his best," said NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, a goalie for seven different teams from 1997-2009. "(But) some of those years the Canes weren't really at their best either. … He wasn't always playing on top-end teams.

"And sometimes you play on higher-end teams and your numbers can reflect that and may be a bit inflated."

Ward plans on moving his family to Chicago in August. While he hadn't yet donned a Blackhawks sweater before talking to the media, Ward did buy "some new swag" for his kids, ages 7 and 5.

"Kind of surrounding ourselves with new hats and pictures," he said. "Just trying to get used to the reality of where I'm going to be this year."

Ward, admittedly nervous meeting new teammates, coaches and the media Friday, might feel like a fish out of water for a while. But he also can't wait to go from playing in a half-empty barn to one pulsating with energy and excitement every single night.

"Cam's highly motivated, and I know that coming to Chicago will be a nice positive shot in the arm for him," Weekes said. "It's an unbelievable hockey market.

"For Cam, this is a glorious opportunity for him and I know he's going to be motivated to play his best hockey there."

Said Ward: "As players we thrive in atmospheres like that. At least I do. I love to go into a building where you can count on fans being in the seats.

"We have a lot of loyal and great fans in Carolina, but it's no secret that the attendance is always a little bit low. I'm looking forward to … playing in front of a sold-out building and passionate fans."

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