Aaron Ward spent just three of his 17 professional seasons with the Bruins, but he left an indelible imprint in Boston.
The veteran defenseman announced his retirement on Tuesday, ending an NHL career that spanned parts of 15 seasons in the league with 44 goals, 107 assists and 151 points to go along with 736 penalty minutes in 839 games. But the most important number for Ward was the three Stanley Cup rings he earned in Detroit (1997, 1998) and Carolina (2006).
"I?m very proud to have played for as long as I did in the NHL, with and against the best players in the game," said Ward in a statement released by the NHL Players? Association. "This game has left me with countless memories and relationships, especially from those Stanley Cup winning teams in Carolina and Detroit. Thank you to my family, fans, friends and teammates for all of the great years."
Ward, 37, didn?t get to add another ring to his resume in Boston, but he did help the Bruins regain their relevancy and become a legitimate contender once again. He arrived from the Rangers in a trade for Paul Mara on Feb. 27, 2007, joining a Bruins team en route to its second straight last-place finish in the Northeast Division.
The following year, Ward helped the Bruins return to the postseason, pushing top-seeded Montreal to seven games before falling in the opening round. In 2008-09, the Bruins finished first in the Eastern Conference and won their first playoff series in a decade by sweeping the Canadiens.
Ward ended up playing an even 150 games in Boston with 9-17-26 totals, while also appearing in 17 postseason games with 1-1-2 totals. It was in the playoffs that Ward?s impact as a vocal and emotional leader was the greatest, as his championship pedigree held great weight with his teammates.
"You have to make it clear to the young players and the old players alike, that it?s time to look deep within yourself, find those intangibles and bring them out now," explained Ward of postseason play during the 2009 playoffs. "You?ll see a different attitude among the players. There?ll be an excitement. Most guys have experienced playoffs, whether it be in Juniors or in college, so they know this is the prime time for hockey. This is when we as players get to give in to our competitive nature. This is where we get to put it on the line and show what we have."
Ward had a profound impact on the Bruins, and even upon his departure last year in a trade back to Carolina, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli praised Ward?s work in Boston.
"I think he?s been a tremendous soldier here so to speak, with bringing experience, bringing size and strength, bringing a stabilizing presence to our defense," said Chiarelli. "Frankly, I wouldn?t have traded him anyplace else but Carolina because that?s where his home is. I really do appreciate the time and service and personality Aaron has brought to our organization. I wish him well in his future hockey career and career afterward."
One year earlier, after signing Ward to a two-year extension, Chiarelli noted that "Aaron is a true warrior. The number of times he played with an injury you wouldn?t know."
The injuries finally caught up to Ward, who underwent a third surgery on his knee this offseason. After finishing last year in Anaheim following a trade deadline deal, Ward was an unrestricted free agent and had remained unsigned. He was not going to be ready for the start of the 2010-11 campaign, which helped prompt his retirement decision.
Ward, always one of the most articulate and intelligent interviews in the game, actually got a head start began his post-playing career last spring with several appearances on Versus playoff coverage. He plans to continue his television work as an analyst this season while returning to his home in North Carolina.