Our Pledge To You

Blackhawks

2019 NHL Winter Classic: Goalie Cam Ward starts for Blackhawks against Bruins

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Cam Ward vividly remembers playing hockey outside as a kid and has been dreaming of doing it in the NHL. He’ll get that chance as the Blackhawks’ starting goalie in the Winter Classic.

It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Ward, who is 14 years in and staring down the final stage of his career. Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton bypassed red-hot youngster Collin Delia to go with Ward, and this will be a milestone moment for him.

“I’m not gonna get another shot at this,” he said after practice Monday. “I know this is gonna be my first and only attempt at doing it. You don’t want to take it for granted. You want to soak it all in and enjoy it.

“I’ve got my family here, and I’ve got my son in the locker room right now. I’m just like anybody else, just trying to take pictures and make sure it’s a memorable experience. I know as a team, we’ve been playing so well as of late that you want to keep this good feeling going.”

DALLAS, TEXAS - DECEMBER 20: Cam Ward #30 of the Chicago Blackhawks stops a shot on goal against the Dallas Stars in the first period at American Airlines Center on December 20, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775220820

That last part is substantial. Regardless of whether anyone thinks it’s absurd, the Hawks intend to keep pushing toward a playoff spot. They’re a long way out, but the idea seems slightly less crazy after going 6-2-1 in their last nine games.

When Ward settles into the crease Tuesday against the Bruins, it’ll be his first start since Dec. 23 against the Panthers. He allowed five goals, prompting the Hawks’ shift to Delia against the Wild and Avalanche. He was excellent in those games, both wins.

That made Delia a deserving candidate to start the Winter Classic, especially after Colliton framed the goalie situation as a daily competition while Corey Crawford is out with a concussion. Delia has a .957 save percentage and 1.66 goals-against average in three games; Ward is at .866 and 3.90 in 17.

But Colliton has grounds for going with Ward on the big stage.

Ward has been strong in the locker room all season and jumped in for sporadic starts when Crawford needed a break, and he has served as a mentor to Delia.

RELATED
• 2019 NHL Winter Classic: Blackhawks wowed by Notre Dame Stadium despite rain
• Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman likes how team looks under coach Jeremy Colliton

He also has the credibility of playing in games of this magnitude. Delia has five career starts. Ward has a championship ring.

Plus, before the Panthers game, Ward delivered two good performances against the Predators and Stars. He stopped 56 of 59 shots in those two victories.

“Clearly he’s had a great career, and he’s an important part of our group,” Colliton said. “His experience and veteran leadership . . . guys respect him, and he’s played well for us. He’s played hard, he competes and I’m happy for him to get the opportunity.”

Ward has been hoping for this chance and had a black-and-white mask customized with the likeness of Charlie Gardiner, the Hall of Fame goalie who led the Hawks to their first Stanley Cup in 1934, to wear for the game.

While he hasn’t said it definitively, this could be his send-off season. That possibility makes this start even more meaningful to him.

“I’m a realistic guy, and I’ve been waiting a long time to be able to do something like this,” said Ward, who added that he hasn’t decided his future. “And chances are it probably will be my only opportunity to do so.”

Sun-Times staff writer Madeline Kenney contributed to this story.