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'I scored a goal and people wanted me dead:' Former UPEI Panther Joel Ward didn’t let racism stop him from NHL success

Joel Ward, his mother Cecilia and wife Kathleen at a ceremony in 2016 at UPEI where his No. 22 was honoured.
Joel Ward, his mother Cecilia and wife Kathleen at a ceremony in 2016 at UPEI where his No. 22 jersey was honoured. - Jason Malloy

Hockey star was targeted by hateful comments after scoring game-winner in 2012 playoffs

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Joel Ward just wanted to be Joel Ward.

But for a small segment of the population all they could see was the colour of his skin.

“I never thought I’d ever be on the cover of USA Today and have the FBI calling me,” he said.

But that’s exactly what happened in 2012 after the Washington Capitals’ winger scored the overtime winner in Game 7 to eliminate the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.

Following the heroics, racial comments were made against the black hockey player on social media sites.

“That was a sweet and sour moment but one I will never forget in my hockey career,” he said.

“You wonder, I guess, why me? I scored a goal and people wanted me dead. …

“I couldn’t really grasp that. I was just trying to do something that everybody in the whole building was trying to do, which was end the game, win (the series) and move on. Sure enough, I was taking a beating because of the colour of my skin.”

The former UPEI Panther said he received great support from his Capitals’ teammates, coaches and the organization. Ward wore No. 42 with Washington and San Jose to honour Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s colour barrier in 1947.

Ward dealt with racism throughout his life. He remembers going home from school and asking his mother why he was being called certain names and what they meant.

She told him to shrug it off and not let it discourage him.

It was difficult for Ward, playing a sport at a time when there weren’t many black Canadians playing hockey.

“You feel sometimes you’re on an island by yourself, being a minority,” he said.

But his love for the game was too strong to let a couple people saying dumb things derail his plans. His thought was they were trying to get under his skin to get him off his game, so he used it as fuel to show the world he belongs with the sport’s top players.

“It didn't deter me from my dreams of playing hockey.”

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