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Blackhawks goalies Cam Ward, Collin Delia embrace partnership amid competition

Blackhawks goalie Cam Ward has been tutoring Collin Delia. | Gene J. Puskar/AP

NEWARK, N.J. — It’d be easy for Cam Ward to resent Collin Delia. Normal, really.

Ward came to the Blackhawks to be Corey Crawford’s backup, expecting spot starts and knowing he was the contingency if anything terrible happened. Shortly after Crawford went down with another concussion, though, the Hawks brought up a 24-year-old rookie who immediately jumped on the job.

Ward, a 14-year veteran with a Stanley Cup ring, never bristled at Delia’s arrival. Instead, he embraced a mentor role and enjoys the kid’s success even as it keeps him on the bench.

“As much as I can help Deals… I’m more than happy to do so,” Ward said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have played a long time and I’d love to share my experiences and try to help someone else be able to do the same.

“A lot of this game is about opportunities, and Deals is getting one right now.”

Delia started the last three games, an 0-1-2 stretch for the Hawks, and coach Jeremy Colliton likes to give him an occasional break to resettle himself. There’s a decent chance he’ll split Monday’s game at the Devils and Thursday’s at the Rangers between the two goalies.

Delia has a team-best .932 save percentage and 2.70 goals against average in seven starts. Ward is at .909 and 2.80 in five games since Crawford went on Injured Reserve.

With Crawford out indefinitely and Ward on a one-year contract, this might be Delia’s audition to win the job long-term. Not only has a he played well, he’s shown the right disposition and approach. He’s incredibly level for a rookie and puts in extra time tightening up weaknesses.

He also recognizes what an asset Ward is.

“He’s been like a rock for me,” Delia said. “He has so much experience and he’s a calming presence, not only for myself but the guys as well.

“I try to be a sponge around him and absorb everything he has to say… There’s a lot to learn from him.”

The dynamic between the two is unusual outside of sports. Why don’t these guys hate each other? The logistics of their arrangement make it so that success for one ultimately costs the other. It’s telling, though, that Ward refers to Delia as a “partner.”

He thought back to his other partners, older goalies like John Grahame, Manny Legace and Brian Boucher who didn’t mind him peppering them with questions.

There was no dramatic moment in which Ward whispered just the right thing to Delia and it altered the course of history, and Colliton never steered Delia toward the old sage. It’s more subtle.

They talk shop and they ask each other’s opinions. Ward believes he can learn from Delia. One message that stuck was an overarching philosophy Ward shared.

“About being an everyday player,” Delia said. “It’s not good enough just to play one good game. You have to put together a string of games, you have to be consistent, if you want to play in this league for a long time.”

Delia’s repeated some version of that line to the media several times. That’s where it came from.

Part of the goaltender’s code is to not offer unsolicited advice — “Gotta be real careful, because you don’t want to throw him off,” Ward said — so he’s silent unless Delia comes to him.

Ward gives him space. He sits two lockers away from Delia, a wealth of wisdom available to him at all times. Ward still wants to play, still has something to prove, but he’s invested in his young partner.

It’ll be meaningful if Delia grows into a star and gets everything Ward’s enjoyed and more. As he nears retirement, this could be part of his legacy.

“He’s got a ton of hockey left in him and a bright future,” Ward said. “If I can help push him and help support him, I want to do that.”