Originally written on NBC Washington  |  Last updated 11/15/11

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 05: Joel Ward #29 of the Nashville Predators waits to faceoff against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on November 5, 2009 in Anaheim, California. The Ducks defeated the Predators 4-0. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Joel Ward grew up playing hockey in Toronto, but the death of his father when he was 14 years-old almost derailed him. “I was playing at an arena in Toronto and I saw a lot of people crowded around where my parents usually sat,” Joel told us.  “One of the other parents came at the end of the game and took me to the hospital.” The Ward family found out that Joel’s father, Randall, had a blood clot to the brain. A couple of days later he passed. The death of Randall left a hole in the family and Ward’s mother Cecilia, a registered nurse who has since retired, was determined to make sure that Joel and his older brothers continued to play hockey. She worked two jobs to help pay for equipment and registrations, and friends and family pitched in to make sure the Ward boys got to and from practices. Joel, who admitted that his father’s death left him a little bit lost, recognizes now how important that was for him. “You know, hockey really saved me,” he remembers. “I’d go to the rink an...
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