Aaron Ward knows the importance of balance. When he was a kid in Ontario, that meant learning to navigate a sheet of ice atop two razor-thin blades of steel. Now that he’s got that down, he has to prioritize his growing family, volunteer work and all the travel, practice and other demands of being a professional hockey player.
Phoebe, Ward’s third child, was born in March. He and his wife, Kelly, have appreciated having the summer to settle in and establish a routine with their 6-year-old son, Liam, and 3-year-old daughter, Libby.
“I think what the adjustment is now is that with two kids you’re one-on-one; now you’re playing a little bit of zone defense,” Ward said — and he should know. He’s returning this season for his fifth year as a defenseman with the Carolina Hurricanes and his 15th in the NHL.
After being drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 1991, he spent several years with the Detroit Red Wings, claiming the Stanley Cup in 1997 and 1998. Ward joined the Canes in 2001, but left after helping them win their first Cup in 2006.
Charity work holds an important role in Ward’s life, with his primary beneficiaries being “schools, military and I think overall, children,” he said, so each time he won the Cup he made sure to visit a children’s hospital to share his excitement with the patients.
He made MassGeneral Hospital’s 2009 list of 100 people or organizations devoted to cancer research for his role in hosting Cuts for a Cause, in which he and several Bruins teammates had their heads shaved to benefit pediatric oncology research. He’s also donated hockey tickets to military families and handed out Thanksgiving turkeys to needy families, along with numerous other ways of giving back.
When he left the Hurricanes in 2006, Ward had a brief stint with the New York Rangers, but that “just wasn’t a successful run,” he said, so he was traded to the Boston Bruins, where he finished out last season.
He enjoyed sharing the cultural aspect of Boston with his kids, and they found a prime location to do so. “We lived 500 yards away from the site of the Boston Tea Party,” Ward noted. “We have all those things that go along with Boston that are historical that you feel like it’s good to give your kids a chance to experience and see for themselves.”
Ultimately, though, despite the benefits of the North, the Wards kept their home here because they had settled on Cary as their “forever” home. They are now living in the home they bought during Aaron’s first run with the Hurricanes while work on their new home is completed. Lucky for them, Ward said, “We bought a home and decided to remodel it without even the inkling that we were going to be coming back here now. We thought we were a year or so away from coming back.”
Ward gives much of the credit for the stability of his family to his wife. “She’s the backbone of my family,” he said. “She’s the one that fills every role — organizer, she’s the one who’s wholeheartedly built this house by herself.”
He admits his wife may get frustrated at having to take on so many responsibilities, but Ward puts a lot of stock in devoting time to his family and making sure his children are raised well. “One of the things we made an effort to do is to instill those values that you get in the South in our children,” he said. “We came back in the summers and make sure there was that ‘yes ma’am,’ ‘yes sir,’ looking people in the eyes, acknowledging the presence of adults and just the overall manners.”
His kids aren’t the only ones who have been influenced by Southern living, either. Ward loves country music, and acknowledges he even has a taste for sweet tea and grits.
When he’s not busy with hockey, football finds a top spot on his to-do list — but only as a spectator. “If I had a choice between something really exciting or going to a high school football game, I’d probably choose a high school football game,” he said. “I don’t play it. I can’t throw, I can’t catch, I sure as hell can’t run, so there’s just something about that game that I love.”
His two older children enjoy sports too, but they prefer a more hands-on variety. “My kids love to fish and golf,” Ward shared. “It’s not good for the golf course to have my 3-year-old out there. … There’s divots in places there shouldn’t be divots, but I make sure that I cover up those holes.”
With hockey season getting in full gear, Ward revealed how he likes to get himself pumped up for a game: “During the course of the day it’s usually two coffees with four shots of espresso in it, one in the morning and one right before the game, and then at some point I space out five Red Bulls during the day.”
That’s enough caffeine to give some people heart palpitations, but not Ward. “It gets me pretty grounded and focused,” he insisted.
If that doesn’t count as a guilty pleasure, Ward has a soft spot for ice cream, in just about any flavor. “I joke that my second job would have been a taste tester for Ben & Jerry’s,” he said, though he doesn’t seem to be kidding. He described a signing he did at the Vermont factory as “heaven.”
In between the perks of his job come a few pretty obscure requests from fans, however. While playing for Detroit, one fan asked Ward to deliver the eulogy at a funeral for their dog, who was named after one of his Red Wings teammates. He admits he was a bit surprised by the request, noting, “I didn’t know the dog. If it was a friend I might have considered it, but this was a person I’d never met before.”
All things considered, though, Ward is glad to play the game, and he appreciates the increased popularity hockey has garnered since he left in 2006. “It’s kind of shocking to see how much this city has embraced the game when they do recognize you away from the ice,” he observed. “And it’s good.”
Catch Ward and the rest of the Carolina Hurricanes in action at the RBC Center. For a schedule and to purchase tickets, visit www.carolinahurricanes.com.