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March 28, 1994 - Image 19

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The Michigan Daily, 1994-03-28

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The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, March 28, 1994 - 9

Continued from page 1
off right away.
Almost from the moment they met, the
freshmen called each other by the first
syllable of their last names, followed by a
long 'e.'
"I don't really know how it started," Ollie
*ays. "Back home, nobody calls me Ollie.
But here, nobody on campus calls me
There is a definite unity among
classmates on the Michigan hockey team.
Players who are the same age almost always
live together when they move out of the
dorms. After their freshman season, Stewart,
Oliver, Wiseman, Stone, Shields and Ward
noved into a house a couple of blocks away
om Yost Ice Arena.
For the next two years, the house was
inhabited by Stewie, Ollie, Wisey, Stoney,
Shieldsy, and Spudsy.
The Dekers Club is the organization that
-Helps the Michigan hockey program raise
'money and increase fan interest. Basically, it
is a booster club. But unlike booster clubs for
football and men's basketball - sports which
"don't need help grabbing the media spotlight
0- the Dekers Club is more directly involved
with the day-to-day operations of the team.
.While the contact the football boosters have
with the team is limited almost exclusively to
"weekly luncheons with the head coach, the
Dekers have extensive interaction with the
hockey players and coaches.
Although the club does not have direct
input as to how money is spent, it performs
,other functions. The club runs the annual
-$lue-White game, organizes raffles during
he regular season and is in charge of the
team's Parents' Weekend.
As a result, the Dekers get to know Red
Berenson andwhis players more than they
ever could by eating one meal a week with
the coach. They work with the coaches and
they get to know the players.
Wally Grant, who played for Michigan in
the late 1940s, is president of the Dekers
Club and one of the few former players
*nvolved in the organization.
To Grant, there is a simple distinction
between the two players.
"Aaron Ward was destined for
Adirondack, because hejust wasn'tready.
Cam Stewart is a Boston Bruins-type of
player," says Grant, voicing what seems to
be a widely-held belief in and around the
Michigan hockey program: Cam Stewart
moved on to the NHL, but Aaron Ward left
Vichigan. Ward's career at Michigan lasted
-'three years, but it was a short three years.
He came, he played, he left. His career as a
,Wolverine was like a bad football team's
offense. Three and out.
Stewart also played three years, but they
-were a full three years. He improved every
season and in his third year, he became a
star. As a junior, he scored 58 points, third
on the team, and scoring wasn't even his
ame. Stewie was there to hit. To make his
resence known. When Cam Stewart was
on the ice, everyone noticed.
" Everyone also noticed when Ward was
on the ice, but only because it was such a
rare occurrence. Ward missed 10 games in
his final year. Stewart missed one.
"I think Aaron's best season was his
freshman season," Grant says. "He played
mediocre after that, really. You see a young
man with the capabilities that he had play
*like he did as a freshman, and then not meet
those expectations in the next couple of
years, and it makes you wonder if he has
really matured enough to make the step.
"That doesn't mean he won't make it

.eventually, but I really do think Cam
Stewart was more prepared. He's a hard-
hitting guy, and he doesn't score a lot of
goals, but he is a threat there as well. He is
the kind of guy that Boston goes for."
"Who is Wally Grant?" asks Ward, who
knows exactly who Wally Grant is. "What
has Wally Grant done in terms of a hockey
career? He doesn't know what is in my best
interest. It is ironic that so many people
offer opinions as to what is in my best
They are doing more than just offering
opinions. They are offering them to Ward.
"When I first left, I received phone
calls," Ward says. "They were overzealous
fans who said they hoped I failed, and that
they were going to laugh at me when it
Ward says he doesn't know who made
the phone calls. Maybe they were just fans.
Maybe they weren't. Either way, the calls

reflected what Ward calls, "an outward hate
toward me by the program in general."
"Face to face, the sun was shining and
the sky was blue," Ward says. "But behind
my back, the thunder was rolling and I was
getting stabbed."
Stewart, of course, did not receive any
such phone calls. He was everybody's
favorite, a hard-hitting, team-oriented,
blood-and-guts player. Earlier this season,
he was knocked out in the first period of a
game. He came back in the second period.
It was a crazy thing to do, but NHL players
are known to be a little crazy. That
craziness, that willingness to give
absolutely everything for the team, is why
most in the Michigan program consider
Stewart more of an NHL player than Ward.
It is an image Ward refutes with one
simple question.
"Where is Cam Stewart right now?"
Providence, R. I. As Ward asks the
question, Cam Stewart is in Providence,
R.I. That is where the Providence Bruins
play. Stewart got sent down by Boston Feb.
14. Valentine's Day.
Stewart did not play poorly with Boston.
He simply did not score enough. He
registered only six points as a Bruin.
He had his highlights. After the game
when Stewart came back from being
knocked out, television personality Don
Cherry talked about Stewart on his show,
Hockey Night in Canada. Cherry called him
"a tough, young player from the University
of Michigan."
Back in Ann Arbor, another tough,
young player from the University of
Michigan, Mike Stone, sat in disbelief.
"It was really weird, seeing Stewie on
television," Stone says. "I'm sitting in the
living room and all of a sudden my housemate
comes on the TV. It was really weird."
So Stewart, despite his lack of points,
did not have an altogether negative
experience in the NHL. Actually, he will
get another shot now. He was called up to
Boston Friday night.
"I'm not ripping Stewie," says Ward,
who wants to know this: If both players left
after their junior years, and they both ended
up spending a significant amount of time in
the minors, then why is Ward being treated
as the villain and Stewart as the hero? Why
aren't they being treated the same?
"Our main concern is that they finish
their education," Grant says. "I haven't
heard much about (Ward) coming back, and
that bothers me a little bit. I really truly feel
that Cam Stewart will come back and go to
"I am going to come back in the summer

a year ago, before leaving Michigan early to

Aaron Ward reaches for the puck in a game last season. Ward scored 12 points in 30 games

join the National Hockey League.


and go back to school,"
Ward says. "I have 90
credits now, and I will
take courses in the
Stewart came back to
Ann Arbor in January to
watch Michigan play
Michigan State while
the NHL was holding its
All-Star Game.
"He has a couple of
days off, and what does
he do?" Grant says. "He

a goof.
"I am a bit of an oddball," says Ward.
"People here (in Glens Falls) call me a
weirdo. I am a guy who does things rat's-
ass backwards. I do some fucked-up things.
Ask my roommates."
"He did some things most college
students wouldn't do," Wiseman says. "He
gets dressed kind of backwards. He puts his
skates on first, before everything else."
He puts his skates on before the rest of
his clothes. The body is ready to play
hockey before it is ready to go out in
public. This was a key to Aaron Ward's
problems at Ann Arbor. He could run out
onto the ice as a Michigan hockey player,
but he couldn't walk out on the Diag as a
Michigan student.
"One of my biggest regrets is that I
didn't make myself available to the students
at the school," Ward says. "I got recruited
when I was 16. I got to college and
suddenly I wasn't on the social level of
these people. What I wasn't ready for was
the life."
When Aaron Ward was a freshman, he
was barely 17, the youngest player in the
CCHA. He had come in early to get into
shape, but he still lagged behind the rest of
the team in conditioning.
Later that year, recalling a run up the
steps of Michigan Stadium, he would say,
"I was so slow, the pylons were speeding
by me."
When Ward came to Ann Arbor, he
didn't have much confidence in his playing
ability, and neither did anyone else.
One day, Berenson called Ward into his
office and placed 15 pounds on a cord
around the freshman's neck.
"How would you like to carry this
around all day?" the coach asked.
Ward understood. He was not working
hard enough, and Berenson was letting him
know it. So he set out to improve his
conditioning and become one of the team's
most valuable players.
By the end of the year, he was.
He made the CCHA All-Rookie team,
the All-Great Lakes Invitational team and
the All-CCHA Championship team.
Coaches around the league drooled at his
talent. He was big, he was strong, he was
fast and, best of all, he was still learning.
The word that came to everybody's
mind was potential.
It was a word that would come back to
haunt him. Two years later, people still
thought Ward had potential. They just
wondered if he would ever reach it.
But for now, he could do no wrong.
When the NHL draft came around that year,
Ward was expected to be a first-round pick.
He had mixed emotions about where he was
The good news was that he was drafted
The bad news was that he was drafted
by the Winnipeg Jets.
Ward wasn't thrilled with the team -
Winnipeg was in the middle of nowhere

comes back to Ann Arbor. Aaron Ward,
because of his personality, I guess, was just
not that way."
"Once I signed, I was banned from using
the facilities at Michigan," Ward says. "I
was told I had to leave. Some guy had to
tell me I couldn't go in, and I don't think he
made the decision. Somebody told him not
to let me in."
OK, so Ward doesn't know who made
the decision. Ward figures it could have
been anyone. At this point, he doesn't know
who he can trust and who he can't.
Actually, there is one person in the
program Ward knows he can trust - team
manager Dave Lewis.
Ward speaks to Lewis regularly, and he
has flown Lewis up to Glens Falls so they
can see each other.
"Dave and I have formed a
relationship," Ward says. "I have a
friendship with him that is above and
beyond hockey. We're best friends."
Lewis is 14 years old.
"He's just ... young," Grant says. He is
talking about Ward. "You know, he was a
young man when he got to the team, and I
really don't think he had matured - not
necessarily physically, he was a strapping,
young guy."
Grant is saying Ward is immature. Not
physically, but emotionally. Grant is saying
Ward clowns around. He is saying Ward is

and the Jets hadn't been a contender since
god-knows-when - but he was Michigan's
highest draft pick ever, so he was happy.
Suddenly, Aaron Ward was more than
just another bright young player. Suddenly,
he was The Future.
When Cam Stewart was a freshman, it
was a different story. He was a solid player,
a hard worker, but not a star. Four
Wolverines made the conference's All-
Rookie team that year. Stewart was not one
of them.
Stewart had been drafted before he came
to Michigan, by Boston in the third round.
After one year as a Wolverine, the NHL
was not an immediate possibility. Maybe,
with hard work and some improvement, the
Bruins would want him someday.
Ward came into his sophomore season
expected to star. After all, he was chosen
higher than anyone else in Michigan
history, so he has to be a great player, right?
He wasn't a great
player, and would not.-......
be for the next two
years. He was plagued
by injuries and
inconsistency. He
showed flashes of
brilliance, but they only
served to reinforce the
notion that Ward was
not as good as he should
have been. Stewart
In the middle of
Ward's junior year,
Berenson felt strongly that the defenseman
was not ready for the NHL.
"What Aaron needs is a solid year of
being a dominant player in this league,"
Berenson said. That dominant year was
something that Ward never had.
Stewart, however, did start to dominate.
He was a hard-hitting, clutch-scoring
forward. He was a presence.
He was also coming back for his senior
"He said all year, 'I am coming back,
I'm going to be a co-captain with Wisey
and play out my senior year and help our
team win,"' Oliver says.
In the spring of 1993, it looked like
Aaron Ward and Cam Stewart would stay at
Michigan for their senior seasons.
On June 11, 1993, the trade went down.
The Winnipeg Jets received forward
Paul Ysebaert. Ysebaert had been a 30-goal
scorer for Detroit.
In exchange, the Detroit Red Wings
received the rights to a big, young
defenseman named Aaron Ward.
Back in Ann Arbor, Ward wasn't
exactly jumping up and down on the
kitchen table. He was running laps around
it, screaming with joy.
"I have never seen a kid that happy in
my entire life," Oliver says.
In the living room, Oliver, Wiseman,
and Stone were watching television, while
their teammate was loudly celebrating his
new status as the property of the Detroit
Red Wings.
"From there, we pretty much assumed
he was leaving," Oliver said. "You don't
trade for a guy like that if you think you are
going to have to wait a year to sign him."
When Ward officially signed with the
Red Wings, it shocked nobody.
"Stewie was the one that surprised us all,"

a fraction more his rookie season than a
year's scholarship to Michigan is worth,
and so he would have been better off
staying a Wolverine.
However, Ward is not just living off his
minor league salary. When he turned pro,
he received a $250,000 signing bonus.
Besides, says Ward, money was never
the only issue.
"I am a 100 percent different hockey
player than I was at Michigan," he says.
Ward says he is not disappointed to be an
Adirondack - and not Detroit - Red Wing.
"Anybody who thinks that I had visions
of grandeur - that I would be in Detroit,
starring -just doesn't know me," he says.
"I had an opportunity to play more games
and develop as a player, and I took it."
When the CCHA held its annual
preseason luncheon on Sept. 29, 1993, the
hot topic was this new trend of players
leaving school early for the NHL.
Aside from Michigan State coach Ron
Mason, who called the exodus "a cancer
right now in this league," most of the
coaches did not express strong reservations
about players leaving early.
In fact, the coaches tried to put a
positive spin on the situation. After all, if
the NHL wants so many of the league's
players, then the CCHA must be a pretty
good conference, right?
Lake Superior State coach Jeff
Jackson's comments were typical of most
of the coaches.
"Our conference, in particular, is a very
NHL-style conference," Jackson said.
The team everyone was talking about
was Michigan, which was coming off its
second straight NCAA semifinals
appearance but had lost two of its best
players a year early.
Apparently, Berenson's feelings about
Stewart and Ward had not changed.
"Cam Stewart will make more money in
the NHL in three years than I made in my
whole career," said Berenson, an
outstanding NHL player for 17 seasons.
"But that's OK."
OK for Stewart, anyway.
"I don't think Ward is leaving for the
right reasons," Berenson said. "Sometimes
(leaving) is the right thing to do, and
sometimes it isn't. This would have been
Ward's year to be a dominant college
Ward says he did not make a mistake.
His biggest disappointment has not been the
demotion, but the fans in Glens Falls. They
are, well, you wouldn't want to refer to
them as hicks, but ...
"They're clueless," says Ward,
laughing. "The guys have more hair than
the girls, and the girls have more facial hair
than the guys. It's a social faux pas not to
inbreed in this town.
"But they are great people."
The great irony here is that while Ward
has been criticized for making a mistake,
Stewart is the one who most regrets the
decision to leave. He calls his former
housemates at least once a week.
"He always tells us how much he misses
Michigan," Oliver says. "I don't know that
he regrets leaving, but he misses school."
Michigan may have lost its attachment
to Ward, but he did not lose his fondness
for Michigan.
"How can you not miss Michigan?" he

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