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Ward has been a diamond

He's a big baseball fan, and steady defenseman

Aaron Ward not only owns baseball memorabilia but also cherished hockey mementos - three Stanley Cup rings. Aaron Ward not only owns baseball memorabilia but also cherished hockey mementos - three Stanley Cup rings. (Mark Wilson/Globe Staff)
By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / April 29, 2009
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WILMINGTON - He is the resident chatterbox, with a quote for all seasons. Whether it is in the Bruins' dressing room or in the NESN booth as a guest during the Red Sox-Yankees series, defenseman Aaron Ward is willing to weigh in.

Although Ward is oft-quoted, what isn't widely discussed is the contribution he makes to the back line of the Black and Gold.

Ward, who has played beside Norris Trophy finalist Zdeno Chara for most of the season, is valuable for his steadiness, his willingness to sacrifice his body to block shots, his penalty killing, and his gritty style of play.

But if there is a subject about which Ward is just as passionate as hockey, it's baseball. He has an extensive collection of memorabilia - from a bat signed by Red Sox great Ted Williams to a Royals jersey signed by George Brett, which he said is his most prized possession. He was at all three Red Sox games against the Yankees over the weekend.

"I love baseball," said Ward. "It's my kind of sport, and I like to talk, so you don't miss much. You can turn to see a pitch and then you've got 20 seconds to talk about something and turn back and see [the next pitch]."

Ward's father grew up watching Al Kaline. When Ward was playing for the Red Wings, with whom he won two Stanley Cups, he was able to arrange for his dad to meet Kaline.

"I brought him to Tiger Stadium the year it was getting torn down," said Ward. "They were playing the Texas Rangers when I was there and I had the honor of bringing him into the Tigers' [clubhouse]."

In addition to getting to know many of the Tigers while he was a Red Wing, Ward said he even played paintball against former World Series hero Kirk Gibson, a Michigan native.

"He retired and we were in Detroit," said Ward, 36, who is a native of Windsor, Ontario. "He and [Steve] Yzerman were great friends, so they were everywhere with us. I played paintball with him in California. He was the last guy sitting in the box, guarding his flag, and I snuck up and just lit it up. I covered Kirk Gibson with paintballs everywhere."

Ward said he has appreciated the opportunity to meet so many accomplished baseball players, but he is no slouch himself. He has won three Stanley Cups, the most recent in 2006 with Carolina.

He said if there is a similarity among winning teams, it's confidence, and that is what he sees in the Bruins' dressing room.

"Your skill and your abilities tend to take care of themselves," he said. "The biggest similarity is to the 2006 team. This is a sum-of-the-parts team. Much like 2006, we didn't have guys who were outright All-Stars, but collectively, we had an unbelievable group. That's what we had in 2006, and I think that's what is in the dressing room now."

Coach Claude Julien said one reason the Bruins are in the position they're in is getting contributions from everyone, and Ward is no small part of that.

"Since the first day of the playoffs, I think he's really found his game," said Julien. "We know that in the last month of the season, we found he was fighting it a little bit. But a veteran like him, once the chips are down and the playoffs are starting, he's ready to go.

"He's been a good soldier for us. He sacrifices himself every game by blocking shots. He's been really under control and making some good plays. He's been a good player for us in those first four games."

Julien broke up the combination of Chara and Ward for a handful of games in March, thinking it would help Ward as well as the rest of the team.

"There's a time where you make sure you prepare for all kinds of situations," said the coach. "If somebody gets hurt, guys have to be able to play with others, and they play better when they have played with them before. So we kind of moved things around.

"At that one point, we were trying to help him find his game a little bit. He was fighting it a bit, so we moved him down like we do with the forwards, move them down and let them work their way back up. He did that. Him and [Chara] have been together almost two years now, so they read off each other pretty well."

Chara was back at practice yesterday after missing Monday's workout to be with his wife, Tatiana, as they welcomed their first child, daughter Elliz Victoria, who arrived at 7:22 p.m. . . . In addition to practice drills, Julien had his players scrimmage in an effort to stay fresh during the extended break while they wait to begin the second round of the playoffs. "I think it's important that we don't let ourselves slip too much," said the coach. "We're trying to stay on top of our game. We put them through different situations - five-on-fours, four-on-threes, they looked good. It's a tough challenge right now, but it's a challenge we have to face. There are no excuses this time of year."

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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