Page 10-The Michigan Daily- Wednesday, February 17,1993
Ward shines in Spengler Cup
Michigan defenseman proves mettle in international competition
by Brett Forrest
Daily Hockey Writer
To understate things just a tad,
you could say the last two months
have been eventful for Michigan
defenseman Aaron Ward.
He played in the prestigious
Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland.
He recorded his first point of the
CCHA season as well as his first
goal. Most importantly, however, he
dealt with his hockey future.
The Spengler Cup includes five
teams from five countries - Canada,
Sweden, Russia, Germany and
Switzerland. The squads are
comprised of professionals and
amateurs, making the competition
one of the most vaunted
international tournaments in hockey.
Paul Henry, director of player
personnel for Team Canada, scouted
Ward and asked him to play for
Canada in the Spengler.
"I had to think about it awhile
because I didn't want to miss the.
GLI (Great Lakes Invitational),"
Ward said. "Coach (Red Berenson)
said it was a good idea. I would play
six games in six days and get my
Ward was wary, at first, of the
names on the team. Many of the
players on the Canadian squad were
ex-NHL stars and current standouts
in Swiss leagues. Players such as
Brian Propp, Ken Yaremchuk,
Norman Rochefort and Morris
"I had doubts whether to play,"
Ward confided. "I looked at the
talent on the list and there were
some great players."
He did decide to go. Upon arrival
in Davos, Ward dropped his suitcase
off in his hotel room and went
directly to the rink for practice. At
that first skate, he was met with a
"(Coach Andy Murray) started
dividing up players in the first
practice," Ward said. "I ended up on
the first line with (Lake Superior
alumnus) Mark Astley, Yaremchuk,
Propp and (Don) McLellan. He put
me on the power play, I played
penalty killing. It was a lot of
The opening game of the
Spengler pitted the Canadians
against the Swedes. The Swedish
team boasted former NHL greats
Hakan Loob, Bengt Gustafsson and
Mats Naslund. The Canadians
toppled Sweden, 5-3. Ward, by all
accounts, had a great debut.
"From the minute the puck was
dropped, it was very clear that he
was a player and that he'd have no
trouble competing at that level,"
Henry said. "He emerged clearly. He
played outstandingly. He played
very, very strongly in the first game
The following night, Canada
battled a tough Russian squad with
outstanding, proven performers such
as Sergei Makarov, Sergei Priakhin,
Andrei Khomutov and Vyacheslav
Bykov. The Canadians fell, 5-4. The
team rebounded quickly, though,
beating Germany, 8-5, the next day.
Against Switzerland, Canada won,
In a rematch with-Sweden in the
gold-medal game, Ward had his best
performance of the touranment as
Canada won an overtime thriller, 6-
comparison to some of the greatest
players in the game.
"When I went there, I was
skeptical," Ward said. "When I
came back, I didn't want to come
back. I didn't want to come back
because I loved the experience so
After his freshman season at
Michigan, Ward was drafted fifth
overall in the NHL entry draft by the
Winnipeg Jets. Talk began circulat-
ing around Yost of his leaving early
for the pros. Ward is Michigan's
highest draft pick ever and after his
stellar rookie season, many did not
expect to see him in Maize and Blue
His second season, though, was a
disappointment. Perhaps he fell into
a sophomore jinx. Maybe he did not
work hard enough in the off-season.
Probably, though, he began listening
to all the talk regarding his future.
"I think the draft more than any-
thing else really got him thinking
wrong and he just didn't perform,"
Berenson said. "That's the trouble
with the draft. When you're drafted
you think about all those things. In
reality, they're not even an option."
"There's two or three hundred
kids drafted every year. And they all
think, 'Jeez, I'm going to be a pro'
- especially if you're drafted in the
first couple rounds. Had Aaron been
drafted a year later, in all fairness to
him, he wouldn't have been picked
in the first round."
This season, Ward picked up his
play considerably. He is arguably
playing the best hockey in his
Michigan career. The speculation
regarding an early departure began
Ward wrangled with the options
before him. Should he stay in Ann
Arbor? Should he go to Winnipeg?
Should he spend next season with
Team Canada, trying out for the
1994 Olympic team? Berenson
wanted him at Michigan for his se-
"He's always played in the
shadow of our three seniors
(defensemen David -larlock, Pat
Neaton and Chris Tamer),"
Berenson said. "We're looking for-
ward to next year when he'll be our
key defenseman, our leader on de-
fense. But up until now he hasn't
had to take a leadership role."
Ward came to Michigan when he
was just 17 and has never had to as-
sume that leadership role. Next year
could be a year of growth for him -
if he stays a Wolverine.
"It's critical before you step into
the pro game to prove yourself,"
Berenson said. "I think he has some
proving to do. What Aaron needs is
a solid year of being a dominant
player in this league."
Ward will get an opportunity to
prove his worth as a senior.
Recently, he committed to a final
year at Michigan.
"The biggest word is a diploma,"
Ward said. "If I left early, I'd proba-
bly be too lazy to come back and get
it. I've always been able to escape
responsibility. I've always been
given the benefit of the doubt be-
cause I've always been younger. I
need the skill of leadership."
Berenson said he is happy to see
Ward stay for his final year.
Berenson discussed the example of
Brian Deasley, a Wolverine player
from 1987 to 1988 and a first-round
pick of the Calgary Flames in 1987,
who left Michigan after his sopho-
more season. Deasley has neither
played a game in the NHL nor re-
turned to school to get his degree.
"A lot of the hockey people don't
realize the importance of school to
these kids in their lives. They're just
looking at hockey," Berenson said.
"(Hockey executives) are not
thinking about necessarily what's
best for this kid. They have nothing
to lose at Team Canada or at
Calgary or anywhere else. They
need a kid and if he doesn't do the
job, he's gone and they bring some-
body else in. Now who's worried
about the kid's development?
Now that Ward has made this all-
important decision, a new set of
questions arises. Does he have the
talent to make it in the show; if he
does have what it takes, how far
away is he; and what must he do in
the next year to insure him a spot on
an NIHIL roster"?
"He'll become a player in the
NHL. I think he still needs to de-
velop his game," Henry said. "I
Aaron Ward (left) is shown here with teammate Yan Arsenault after
defeating Sweden, 6-5 in the gold-medal game of the Spengler Cup.
think it's really important that he
succeeds and he plays at a very high
level and he dominates before he
makes the next jump to the NHL.
"The fear would be to move too
quickly and then lose confidence
and be eaten alive. I think he really
had a positive experience (at the
Spengler Cup) which is going to
help him grow as a player."
So at least one camp believes he
will be an NIL player. Actually,
that makes two - Henry and
"We see him as a very aggressive
defenseman who plays with a very
robust or active kind of style," said
Dennis MacDonald, assistant gen-
eral manager of the Winnipeg Jets.
"Right now he's still a prospect. We
wouldn't have drafted him if we
didn't feel he could fit into our sys-
"It's really a matter of how he
progresses and when the time comes
for him to turn pro, what's the status
of our different kinds of players. We
think he's a prospect and we think
he'll fit into our system."
Berenson played and coached in
the NIiL for 20 years and knows
what it takes to play there. ie com-
pared Ward to former CCHA and
current NHL defensemen Rob Blake
and Jason Wooley.
"He's got the skills. I think he
can be a pro, it's just a matter of
how much he grows," he said. "He
has to put his whole game together.
le has to be a mistake-free player.
You can't make bad decisions if you
play in the NHL. Aaron needs a
solid year of being a dominant
player in this league."
He probably can be that domi-
nant player. At 6-foot-2 and 200
pounds, Ward has no problem with
size. Skating speed and strength are
also among his assets. Now that he
has made the decision to stay at
Michigan, he can pay full attention
to happenings in the CCHA.
Moreover, a role as a vocal leader in
the lockerroom and on the ice may
give him added confidence.
"My priorites are here at
Michigan and they'll stay here,"
Ward said. "At this point I don't
think I'm ready for pro but the
Spengler Cup helped me mature my
game. Time will tell - I could all of
a sudden develop into the worst
hockey player you've ever seen. I'd
love to play pro but you got to be
ready. I don't want to go in there
and be a flop."
5. In the victory, Ward caught Loob
cutting across the ice and plastered
him with a crushing check that
forced Loob to miss the rest of the
The Spengler Cup made for quite
a vacation. Ward travelled to
Switzerland. He played with
professional players he grew up
worshipping on the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation's Hockey
Night In Canada. And he got an idea
of where his skills stand in
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