January 12, 2009

Ron Ward

Ron Ward, a center who also appeared on defense occasionally, was a wizard with the puck, especially close in. It was said he could shake a defenseman in a phone booth, although he had trouble at the NHL level. Despite several fine offensive seasons in the minor leagues and WHA, Ward was never able to stick in the NHL. This was due partially to his size, or more accurately lack-there-of, but mostly due to his poor skating. One fan described the awkward Ward's skating like "watching a duck walk on ice"

Ward's NHL rights were originally owned by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team he grew up dreaming about playing with. Ward turned pro in the Leafs minor league system in 1965 with the CHL Tulsa Oilers where he started the season on defense, but by season's end was permanently playing up the middle. By his third year in Tulsa he led the entire Central Hockey League in assists (54) and points (85) en route to being named as The Hockey News minor league player of the year. That year Ron led the Oilers to the CHL championship.

The Leafs moved Ward to the Rochester Americans the following season in an effort to acquired goaltender Bruce Gamble. Ward continued to show well, this time scoring 35 goals and 78 points while being named as the Red Garrett Memorial winner as the AHL's top rookie.

Ward finally got a chance with the Leafs in the 1969-70 season. The Leafs boasted 3 solid centers in Norm Ullman, Dave Keon and Shakey Walton, thus there was little room for the awkward skating minor league star. However Keon and Walton missed many games with injuries during that season, and Ward got into 18 games. Unfortunately he saw very little playing time, and picked up only 1 assist.

Initially Ward was returned to firstly back to the CHL Tulsa Oilers, but was soon re-assigned to Phoenix of the WHL. Phoenix was desperately looking for help to get into the WHL playoffs, and asked the Leafs to help out. Since the Leafs considered Ward past the development stage, they moved him there in order to make room for a new prospect on their main farm teams.

Obviously it wasn't long before Ward was out of the Toronto organization completely. The Vancouver Canucks claimed him in the expansion draft in June of 1970, but Ward spent Canucks first season in the minor leagues with AHL Rochester.

Ward spent his only full NHL season with the Canucks in 1971-72. However he was not used at center ice, but rather placed back on defense. Because of his size he was used sparingly, often just on penalty kills. He scored 2 goals and 4 assists in 71 contests, but wasn't overly happy with his situation.

Ward bolted from the Canucks and the NHL the following season, and signed on with the WHA New York Raiders. Ward exploded in the WHA, scoring 51 goals, 67 assists and 118 points in his first season! He even set a WHA record for most goals in a game (5) on January 4, 1973 vs. the Ottawa Nationals. He would equal the record again on November 30, 1975 vs. the Toronto Toros.

He was never able to come close to those high season numbers again however, as he bounced around the unstable league. He saw time in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Winnipeg and Calgary, but was perhaps best known as a Cleveland Crusader where he had 2 30 goal seasons and was always in the top 3 in scoring.

Ron, who was also a star lacrosse player, retired from pro hockey in 1977. Nowadays he runs a catering service in Cleveland, and coaches high school hockey. At one point he also owned and operated a Dairy Queen franchise in his hometown of Cornwall.


Anonymous said...

It is great to read about my uncle Ron! I never knew about the 118 point season!!!

Jason Ward

Unknown said...

My parents (Ernest and Rita Hofstrom Hofstrom) were big fans of Ron. They would have he over to the house many times when he played in Tulsa. Great for me as a kid growing up.