Joel Ward's strong playoff run with the Nashville Predators has earned high praise from a fellow Scarborough native who now sits in the hockey broadcast booth.
"It's a great story. I'm so happy for him. I really am," NHL goalie-turned-analyst and former Scarborough resident Kevin Weekes, said in an interview.
"It's a great situation for him. I mean, the Predators are a team that gave him his first opportunity. Minnesota gave him an opportunity to play pro hockey... but Nashville's the organization that gave him his first real chance."
A former Don Mills Flyer, Ward, 30, didn't land a significant role on an NHL team until he was 27.
Despite being eliminated by the Vancouver Canucks last Monday, Ward and his Nashville Predators teammates reached the second round of the National Hockey League playoffs for the first time. Along the way, he led the Predators in scoring, collecting 13 points in 12 games.
Weekes, who like Ward is black, said Ward's breakthrough is all the more impressive considering he took a decidedly non-traditional path to the pros.
"Knowing the route that he's taken to get there... it was a long road and I can identify with that. There were a lot of challenges, certainly when you're making history playing a sport that traditionally, not that many visible minorities played."
"Just the fact that he's in that (top scorers) category is unbelievable. It's great for Nashville, they have a great story. It's good for Toronto, Scarborough and it's good for Barbados, too."
Weekes and Ward grew up in the Pharmacy and Finch area and both attended Chester Le Junior Public School, but their families knew each other from their home country of Barbados.
"I'm getting goose bumps talking about it," said Weekes as he remembered playing hockey as a youngster.
"When we were going to school, people would laugh at us. And I don't say people as in, the white population. We had a lot of people in the Caribbean community, the West Indian community that used to laugh at us, too, when we were playing. 'You guys are great athletes. What are you guys doing? Don't play hockey. Where are you guys gonna go? You guys aren't going to make the NHL. Why don't you guys run track, play basketball, play baseball?'"
Weekes and Ward have proved the critics wrong, but it's an on-going cycle.
"You don't stop proving yourself, especially for us as visible minorities in hockey," said Weekes.
He believes Ward will have a prominent role as an NHL player going forward.
"I definitely think that Joel can be a consistent 20-goal scorer. I think that he can get north of 20. But I think that he can be a 20-goal scorer in the right fit and the right environment and with the right ice time," he said.
"You saw what he was able to do in the post-season. That's reflective of the fact of two things. One, his role increased and then two, I think he was playing another three-and-a-half to four minutes per game. He was on the power-play. He's been getting different looks."