Joel Ward dropped the phone.
It was Dec. 16 and he was watching his Baltimore Ravens like any other Sunday when Doug Currie, his coach at the University of Prince Edward Island, called. The news was unbelievable: Ward’s college teammate and close friend Drew Power died in a house fire.
“He was a teammate of mine, he was everything,” Ward said. “He was a teammate, he was a roommate, I lived with him, he was a brother, he was a cousin, he was a friend, he was everything. An unbelievable guy.”
Losing a friend in such tragic fashion shook Ward. He hung out with Power, who was 31, just a few weeks prior up in Prince Edward Island while skating there during the lockout.
When he had to go back to attend Power’s funeral, “it was just tough to swallow.” The tragedy put those who knew Power “in a perpetual state of shock,” longtime friend Ryan Maxwell said.
More than a month later Ward is back playing in the NHL, but Power is at the forefront of the Washington Capitals right wing’s thoughts. He’s dedicating this season to his late friend.
“This dedication to the season that he’s made, am I surprised? Not at all,” said Currie, who now serves in the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island. “And I know it was a real setback for Joel because Drew and Joel had quite a connection and they had a lot of fun together. I’m not surprised. This is so typical of Joel and just his time here in the province of Prince Edward Island and the friendships and the connection that he has made.”
The connection runs deep. Ward and Power met before they were teammates at the University of Prince Edward Island in 2002-03.
“We shared a pretty good bond right off the start because both of our fathers passed away at a young age,” Ward said. “I just kind of bonded that way of kind of sharing stories a little bit. That was kind of our glue, I guess you could say, of losing our dads at a young age.”
When Currie got the news of Power’s death in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Ward was one of the first people he thought of. He remembered the friendship they cultivated during one season as teammates.
But that was just the start. Ward recalled visiting the home of Power’s mother, Raeanne Thomson, enjoying a big feast and hanging out in the backyard, drinking beers and relaxing.
“We just had a lot of fond memories,” Ward said. “He loved hockey. He was playing senior hockey over there on the Island. He loved the game, loved every bit of it. He’d still send me messages that he scored two goals in senior hockey. His sense of humor was pretty good. He would always tease me about playing his senior hockey and me playing up here [in the NHL], there’s not that much of a difference.”
That was part of what made Power beloved in the community, that he kept trying to play hockey somewhere, somehow.
“It would be an ongoing chirp for myself and some of his buddies, kind of chirping him about still living the dream and stuff like that,” said Maxwell, who coached with Power at Holland College and was friends with him since high school. “Some of us in our 30s now, we had some good, decent careers and we moved on to different stages of our life. Every year he would say, ‘OK I think I’m done,’ and he just wouldn’t give it up. He loved the game more than anyone.”
One thing Ward emphasized was how much Power loved Charlottetown. Not long before his death, Power graduated from the local police academy and was beginning a career as an officer. Currie said Power was a good police officer because “he could relate to people.”
No wonder he and the ever-personable Ward became friends and remained so for a decade.
Power’s death hit Ward hard, but now he has the chance to honor his late friend and share his story. Ward ordered gloves with “DP” stitched on them and is waiting for them to arrive.
“I’m kind of hoping those come in pretty soon,” he said.
It was all to clear in those words how much Power meant to him.
But the 32-year-old forward did pretty well in the season opener Saturday night wearing his regular gloves and thinking of Power. With Power’s stepfather, Duane McGregor, in attendance at Tampa Bay Times Forum, Ward scored twice, getting a third of the way to his 2011-12 goal total in just one game.
Ward believes spiritual intervention helped him get to within a goal of his first career hat trick. As he pointed out, the two goals came on two good bounces.
“I do believe he was there in Tampa watching, helping me out a little bit there,” Ward said. “I was asking him for one more, to see if he could help me out with one more. But I think I got a little bit too greedy by asking him for it.”
All Ward wants to do this season is to honor his friend with his play on the ice. Even though Ward grew up in Toronto, those he met in Prince Edward Island call him their own, and his dedicating the season to Power means they’ll keep even closer track of his progress.
“Prince Edward Islanders seem to adopt those who come here and play hockey,” Maxwell said. “Pretty passionate about their hockey here and he definitely had some awesome years and did a lot for the University of Prince Edward Island. He’s really supportive of the community, so people are definitely rooting for him.”
Ward’s cheering section extends to the Caps’ locker room, where left wing Jason Chimera said his teammate is thought of as a “big teddy bear” and liked because he’s a guy who shows everyone respect.
“He’s a good, quality human being. I think for him to have a great year would be great,” Chimera said. “You can’t help but root for a guy like that.”
Ward could use a bounce-back season after scoring just 18 points in 73 games last season. To be able to do it for Power’s memory and his late friend’s family would make it even more special.
“It definitely would be. … Good guys, good family and everybody. I just can’t speak highly enough of them,” Ward said. “I would definitely like to definitely do good and hopefully have a strong season here and hopefully we can bring home the prize.”