- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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TORONTO -- It is easy to forget that Cam Ward is only 29 years old.
After years of people lumping him in with the game’s elite netminders, lately he’s no longer mentioned in the same breath due to people seemingly thinking he’s no longer in his prime.
Of course, the fact Ward has played only about six weeks of NHL hockey over a 16-month period before this season, with last season’s lockout and a knee injury limiting him to 17 games, has something to do with it.
Out of sight, out of mind?
Still, his omission from Team Canada’s summer Olympic camp surprised many, including himself.
"Out of respect, I spoke with someone from Team Canada and they told me ahead of time before the list came out," Ward told ESPN.com Thursday at Air Canada Centre ahead of that night’s game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. "That was good, but it’s still not what you want to hear. It’s in my own hands now, you have to go out and take care of business."
Motivated? Do you think?
"As soon as the summer evaluation camp list came out, I wanted to use that as motivation to not only help better my team but to remind some people what I can do," Ward added. "It was disappointing to be left off that list, but at the same time, I realize there’s a lot of great talent in Canadian hockey."
Ward is a soft-spoken guy, he’s not going to come out guns a-blazing in the media no matter how much the Olympic camp snub hurt. But it’s obvious how motivated he is coming into this season. He wants in on Sochi.
"I’ve known Cam for a very, very long time," said Hurricanes captain Eric Staal. "He may say that didn’t bother him a lot, but it definitely added some fuel to the fire that was already there."
The way Staal sees it, it’s a win-win for Ward and for the Hurricanes if he plays well enough to get back into the good graces of Team Canada. That means a lot of W’s for Carolina in the process.
And despite not going to Canada’s camp last summer, Ward never felt out of the running for a shot at Sochi.
"I never looked at it last summer when the camp roster came out that I couldn’t make the team anymore," said Ward. "I looked at it as extra motivation and I know that if I can play like I know I can in the first half of the season, they’ll be watching and that I’ll be in consideration. That’s my focus. If I make that team, obviously that means the Hurricanes are doing well, too. That’s what I’m striving for, that’s my goal."
First things first. For Ward, this season is about re-establishing himself and getting back into the swing of things.
"For me it’s about getting the game reps again," said Ward. "When you include the lockout and then my injury, I was basically sitting for a year. Being away from the game for that long, it’s difficult to come back. That’s why you emphasize on your practices and take advantage of your opportunities."
After a so-so training camp and preseason, Ward seems to be coming along early in this regular season, including a solid start against the Cup champion Blackhawks on Tuesday night in a shootout defeat.
"I actually felt like I was fighting it early on, but by the third period I felt like my old self; also knowing that there’s still another level that I want to get myself to and I feel like I’m headed in the right direction," said Ward.
Whether there’s enough time for him to make his mark on Team Canada's radar with Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Mike Smith and Corey Crawford, among others, depends on whether he gets on a roll here soon with Canadian management watching.
"Obviously he’s a top goalie, been a top goalie for a while in this league. I’m sure he’s in that mix," Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, a Team Canada summer camp invite, told ESPN.com Thursday.
Phaneuf played with Ward for three years in Red Deer in junior and knows first-hand what the goalie is about.
"Having played with him, I know how good he is, and just from playing against him more since I came out East, you see him a lot more and you see how calm he is, that’s the biggest thing for me with Wardo," said Phaneuf. "He’s always square to the puck and always seems to make those big saves at big moments to keep his team in the game. I can’t say enough good things about Wardo."
Don’t sleep on Cam Ward. I just get that feeling he’s going to return to form this season and make Team Canada notice him again while he's at it.