Saturday, January 5, 2019

Jason Ward Autographed Card

In minor hockey and Juniors, Jason Ward was a gritty forward who willed himself to goals and points; the 1990s and turn-of-the-millennium Montréal Canadiens were always told by so-called experts they needed a power forward to compete with teams from the Western Conference. The Habs picking Ward at the 1997 draft seemed like a match made in Hockey Heaven, but being picked in the first round is probably what kept him from playing more than 336 NHL games in his career, what with the weight of expectations and all.

Also the fact that he wasn't a true power forward, one with a terrific shot and decent speed like Keith Tkachuk or Doug Weight. No, instead, Ward was a tireless worker who compensated his lack of offensive hockey instincts with a growing concern with overall play and defensive acumen, although he never could persuade his NHL employers to embrace his change of job description the way guys like Radek Bonk and Bryan Smolinski did.

That's not to say he wasn't a decent hockey player - he won the 2002-03 Les Cunningham Award as AHL MVP, after all, one that has gone equally to players who had NHL success (Jason Spezza, Stéphan Lebeau, Tyler Johnson) as career minor-leaguers (Jason Labarbera, Corey Locke, Martin Brochu) - but he just never put the pieces together in the best league in the world. Furthermore, from Juniors onward, he had never won a team championship - not the Memorial Cup, not World Juniors nor World Championship gold, not the Calder Cup and especially not the Stanley Cup. It took until three years after he retired from pro hockey following a season in Austria (posting 19 points in 35 games) that he won the Allan Cup (Canadian minor-league amateur championship) with the Dundas Real McCoys.

Considering he suited up for Team Canada at two World Juniors competitions (1998, eighth-place and 1999, silver), that's a rare feat. Speaking of which, here he is sporting his national team's white (home) uniform on card #272 from Upper Deck's 1998-99 UD Choice set, which he signed in blue sharpie while playing either for the New York Rangers or Tampa Bay Lightning:
Between his retirement and his Allan Cup-winning comeback, he was an assistant coach with the OHL's Brampton Battalion, which operated near where he now lives and coaches his sons' teams; he didn't follow the team when it moved to North Bay.

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