Hockey: The last CISer has been eliminated

Well, with the Vancouver Canucks finally putting the Nashville Predators away last night we no longer get to watch not-overnight-success Joel Ward continue to be the unlikely hero in Music City. As much as folks might be breathing easier on the west coast, I would have preferred to watch another game with Ward on the biggest stage of his life. Now the last of the CIS alum are off the ice in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I have one less reason to stay up past my bedtime and watch the playoffs.

Joel Ward is one of my favourite hockey players to watch, and not just because he developed in the AUS/CIS. He was a humble star with the UPEI Panthers, always playing with that never-say-quit work ethic that got him to the NHL and almost always with that big smile on his face. The national sports media didn’t know about him, or care much about him (despite dominating Team Canada players in the two-game exhibition series between the AUS and Team Canada in the lead-up to the 2003 WJC in Halifax) until he managed to crack the Minnesota Wild line-up out of training camp in 2006. He didn’t stick, and fell off the radar when he was sent back down and stayed in the AHL with Houston for another two years before signing with super-frugal Nashville for the 2008-09 season. He ground his way anonymously through three seasons in the NHL with the Predators (and just try to catch him playing on TV when you live in the Maritimes …), but this playoffs the Preds get banged up, Ward steps up, and the rest is history.

This has been a good season for CIS exposure in the NHL. Former UNB Varsity Red star Darryl Boyce was called up by the Toronto Maple Leafs after Christmas, and made the most of his second opportunity in the hockey media centre of the world. That photogenic (!) nose injury didn’t hurt his exposure either. Boyce, who left the V-Reds after two seasons, is back in Fredericton now taking courses at UNB towards finishing his degree (and tweeting this morning that he just got 84% on a midterm -- he’s @dboyce47 on Twitter).

Former McGill Redman star Mathieu Darche has had an even longer path to the NHL than Ward’s or Boyce’s, but when you play for the MontrĂ©al Canadiens and have a good playoffs you get noticed (and we do get to see a LOT of Habs games on TV out here).

Jody Shelley of the Philadelphia Flyers was NOT a star his one season with the Dalhousie Tigers. Big and tough but too slow, and that fighting prowess wasn’t much use in the CIS. His fists however have given a long career in the pros, but he’s not a guy who gets a lot of ice time in the playoffs.

Speaking of tough guys, P. J. Stock was a one-year wonder at StFX, a skilled star with the X-Men who got to the NHL through his tenacity and hard-to-play-againstness. Now we have to watch him yap on CBC, so I guess we have an idea of what his opponents used to put up with, or not, on the ice.

If you are a new fan of Joel Ward, the University of Prince Edward Island has created a bit of a fan page with links here.

(Joel Ward photo by George Walker IV / The Tennessean)
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