Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward, one of the NHL's few black players, was the target of racial slurs on his Twitter page after his goal 2:57 into overtime eliminated the Boston Bruins from the Stanley Cup playoffs on Wednesday.
But Ward, 31, told USA Today on Thursday that he's never experienced racist remarks in his four seasons in the NHL -- and that he wasn't planning to let a few hateful Twitter posts ruin what he called the biggest goal of his career.
Ward, not aware of the racist comments and threats until teammate Jeff Halpern alerted him, told USA Today the entries were "shocking to see, but it didn't ruin my day."
"Halpern just took offense that people weren't talking about the goal, (but rather) getting into racist remarks," Ward said, according to the report. "I think he was telling me he had my back, and felt bad that (some Twitter users) were talking about the negative side, instead of how we are moving on."
Halpern wasn't alone in supporting Ward, who said he planned to thank those who came to his defense on Twitter and other social media, according to the report.
"I'm definitely getting a lot of support," Ward said. "There have been a lot of Boston fans who have supported me, which is very cool to see."
The Bruins, in a statement, said the organization was "very disappointed by the racist comments that were made following the game last night. These classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization."
The NHL also issued a brief statement, saying: "The racially charged comments distributed via digital media following last night's game were ignorant and unacceptable. The people responsible for these comments have no place associating themselves with our game."
Ward, whose family emigrated to Ontario from Barbados and who grew up in North York, near Toronto, said he had heard some comments during his days in youth hockey.
"But at that age, I didn't even know what the terminology meant," he told USA Today. "But (at this level) I've never heard anything. I know other guys have, I believe, but I've had nothing directed to me like that."
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis also voiced support for Ward on his blog -- and issued a scathing indictment of the racially motivated comments.
"What these people have said and done is unforgivable. I hope they are now publicly identified and pay a huge price for their beliefs," he said. "There should be zero tolerance for this kind of hate mongering. We will as an organization support Joel Ward. He has been a great teammate and a great citizen.
"He is now the star of stars in our city for his heroics (Wednesday) night. He is a friend and a fantastic player -- who delivered -- as advertised for us and our fans in the playoffs."
Anson Carter, a black winger who played four seasons for the Bruins during a 10-year NHL career, said he was "very surprised" by the reaction because Boston fans had treated him well.
"I thought we were beyond that. But then again, nothing surprises me," Carter said. "I know racism exists. But if people think all NHL fans are racist, that's the furthest thing from the truth."
He called Ward's goal, which propelled the seventh-seeded Capitals into the second round, one of the biggest NHL moments ever for a black player, rivaled only by Jarome Iginla's exploits for the Calgary Flames. Ward had scored just six goals all year before he slammed home a rebound at 2:57 of overtime to give the Capitals a 2-1 victory.
The reaction to Ward's goal "sets the league back in terms of perception," Carter said. "The league has come a long way. To the casual fan, people may have in the back of their minds that it's a racist sport, and this validates that idea."
Willie O'Ree was the league's first black player, breaking into the Bruins' lineup in 1958, and there are now 28 blacks and a total of 68 non-whites in a league of 876 players. There have been a few racial incidents over the years, including a banana thrown at the Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds in a preseason game last fall.
"It's disgusting," Simmonds said Thursday about the reaction to Ward's goal. "Things like that have happened to me before. It's not something you want to happen, but it's sad in this day and age that it continues to happen."
Ward said he's not afraid for his safety as the Capitals move forward in the Stanley Cup playoffs, according to the report. And though he knows he stands out as a black athlete in a predominantly white sport, he's never seen it get in the way.
"There is no lying about it. ... I'm definitely the one black guy in a room with 20 white guys," Ward said, according to USA Today. "There are definitely some cultural differences, such as taste in music, but I've never heard anything derogatory."
On Friday, Capitals players tapped the ice with sticks when Ward skated onto the rink for practice, and some fans rose for a standing ovation.
Ward discussed the issue further.
"I don't let it bother me at all," Ward said Friday as the Capitals returned to practice. "It's a few people that just made a couple of terrible comments, and what can you do? I know what I signed up for. I'm a black guy playing a predominantly white sport. It's just going to come with the territory. I'd feel naive or foolish to think that it doesn't exist. It's a battle I think will always be there."
On Friday, teammate Jason Chimera criticized the "few idiots out there who ruin a beautiful moment for somebody."
"My advice for him -- just don't listen to what people say, good things or bad things. You just have to concentrate," teammate Alex Ovechkin said. "He's strong and he's funny. He's, right now, Michael Jordan of hockey."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.