Called “Wardo” by his teammates, Taylor Ward is all about the team — the Penticton Vees.
Twenty-three games into his second full season in the BCHL, the Kelowna product has been carrying forward the momentum of pre-season into the regular season with strong play. During the offseason Ward, 18, focused his workouts off the ice to get better for this season. He felt that was important.
“I think, personally, lots of my strength came off the ice, working out in the gym and on the field,” said Ward, son of retired NHLer Dixon Ward. “Doing some agility, quick feet stuff. That helps a lot. It translates on the ice well.”
Ward, a graduate of the Okanagan Hockey Academy, feels he’s a better player all around, but said having confidence is a big part of it.
“All of my game I have taken another step. I just look to keep improving,” said Ward, who doesn’t place focus on too many personal goals.
He just cares about helping the Vees win games. He been able to do that with a bigger role, which has included getting time with special teams. Of his six goals this season, two have come on the power play. That pits him second on the team in that category. With a forward group up front that included NHL draft pick Tyson Jost and Scott Conway, he said he didn’t get a lot of chances in that spot. He said the added responsibility is a good accomplishment .
“I’m proud of myself, but I also want to accomplish and contribute to both sides,” he said. “I just want to keep working and try to keep my position up there in the minutes column.”
Ward brings a physical element to the Vees, which includes battling hard along the walls. To him, his biggest asset is his smarts, but he believes he can contribute in all aspects, including off the ice.
“I come to the rink with a smile on my face. I try to keep the guys loose which doesn’t seem like a big thing, but it’s a big part of the team,” he said. “In the room it helps keep things light.”
“He’s a good guy in the room,” said Vees captain Nicholas Jones.
When it comes to the right wingers play, Jones said he’s playing well. With Chris Klack, Jones played on a line with Ward for about six games.
“I thought we had some good chemistry with Chris Klack,” said Jones. “He’s a guy who deserves a scholarship. Nebraska-Omaha is a lucky team to have him.”
The topic of him earning a National Collegiate Athletic Association scholarship never even came up from Ward.
“It’s hard not to fall in love with that place, with their brand new facility, amazing campus and their coaching staff were great to me when I was down visiting,” said Ward in a team statement. “I was star struck walking into that new arena and who wouldn’t want to go to work there every day or play in front of those fans every game? It wasn’t a hard decision in my mind and I’m truly honour to be committed to UNO.”
Prior to joining the Vees last season, Ward won a Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL) championship with the OHA Prep White team in 2014-15.
Ward noted his family is very familiar with Nebraska-Omaha’s head coach Dean Blais.
“He was my dad’s coach at North Dakota and now it has comes full circle I suppose,” he said. “I wouldn’t have reached this point without all the hard work and sacrifice from parents, grandparents and my sister. I owe a lot to my family.”
In 23 games this season, Ward had 12 points.
Jones said Ward has been playing well and thinks the difference from last year is playing with confidence has allowed Ward to show his skill, said Jones.
“He’s able to see the ice real well and he has a really good shot. He’s able to get a shot off real quick,” said Jones. “He’s a hard worker. He can make you look silly if you’re off a little bit. He’s able to do it all out there.”
Ward helped the Vees defeat the Vernon Vipers 3-1 in the second game of their home-and-home set over the weekend. His sixth of the season gave the Vees a two-goal cushion. He credited the win to a strong start.
“Our start was critical. I think we played hard all the way through,” he said. “Took the two points in Vernon, which is never easy to do.”
Along with Ward, the Vees other scorers were Grant Cruikshank and Ty Amonte. Mathew Robson made 25 saves to help improve the Vees to 19-4-0.