Ward a kid with a bright future

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

Cam Ward just doesn't know any better.

If you read the papers you'll learn of an orthodoxy in the crease.

Netminders are supposed to be born in Quebec and immersed in the goaltending philosophies of Francois and Benoit Allaire. Unless you're from Latvia, there are no exceptions.

Now, along comes Ward who has lived in Sherwood Park, Alta.,, Winnipeg and Saskatoon. His dad's job meant the family lived in seven different centres as Ward grew up. The kid has wheat in his veins.

Just 21, he is one of 81 players, thank you very much, included in the Team Canada's preliminary roster for the Turin Olympics.

You can appraise him tonight against the Leafs in the crease for the Carolina Hurricanes.

This season, 30 NHL goalies have faced rubber. Only three, Ward, Jason LaBarbera in Los Angeles and the Washington Capitals' Olaf Kolzig have Western Hockey League roots.

I know what you're thinking. Leafs netminder Ed Belfour is from Carmen, Man., but he never played in the WHL.

Ward hasn't so much as attended a Quebec camp to learn the latest fashion.

"Haven't thought of it, I guess," he said.

"Obviously, they're trained very well but I've been very happy with who I went to see."

The result is something outside the cookie cutter.

"I have a bit of a hybrid style," he said. "I rely on a lot of positioning and rebound control. I'm not a flashy goalie. The idea is to make the tough save look easy."

So far so good. Ward, drafted 25th overall in 2002, has played every game since starter Martin Gerber went out with a hip injury. He is 3-1 with a 2.05 GAA and a fine .932 save percentage. He is coming off a 6-1 drubbing of the New Jersey Devils.

Ward didn't have to look to Quebec for goaltending coaches.His father, Ken, played the position most of his life.

"For some reason, the position clicked with me," Ward. said, "I liked the pressure of having to produce with the game on the line."

Ken Ward's best advice? The golden rule.

"We still call it the golden rule: The more fun you're having, the better," Cam Ward said. "When you're having a great time, you're playing your best."

With the NHL locked out, Ward spent last season with the Hurricanes' Lowell AHL affiliate. Ward allowed just under two goals a game and set a host of team records including wins (27) and save percentage (.932).

Ward was making good use of the time. The AHL used the lines behind the net to limit goalie involvement with the puck and introduced penalty shots to settle tie games. When the moves were exported into the NHL this fall, the rookie was suddenly an old hand among the greenhorns.

The chance to season Ward and some others may have been the only benefit of the lockout," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said.

"Had it not been for the lockout we may not have the luxury of players like Ward and (Eric) Staal being able to play as much as they did in the minors," Laviolette said. "If you ask me, it has allowed them to come into the league a little under the radar."

That won't last long, especially if Ward enjoys many more nights like his first NHL game, Oct. 7 at home against Pittsburgh. With a virtually capacity crowd on hand, Ward stopped overtime penalty shots from Mario Lemieux, Ziggy Palffy and Sidney Crosby to lead the Hurricanes to a 3-2 win.

"Eric Staal came up to me early in the game and said, 'Do you realize your first save in the NHL was against Mario Lemieux?' " Ward said. "It was an honour to be on the same ice as him."

It was also a fine, fine night for the golden rule.


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