February 2, 2019
by Bailey Meadows
It was June 26, 2015.
The NHL’s 30 teams were getting set for arguably the most important day of the year; draft day.
On the concourse of the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, NY Islanders scout Rob Ward was talking to an old friend when he was approached by a familiar face.
It was Matthew Barzal.
“Hey,” he began with a sly grin. “You gotta tell me if I passed that test.”
It was a reference to a personality profile Rob had done with Barzal a few months earlier.
Ward was one of many scouts to watch Barzal during his time with the Seattle Thunderbirds, and the personality profile was a simple way to learn a bit more about his off-ice tendencies.
Of course, there was no pass or fail. But it was a moment which showcased Barzal’s fun and easy-going personality.
“You’d better get back to your seat,” Ward quipped back. “You won’t be in it for very long.”
Barzal and Ward went their separate ways, though they would see each other again shortly.
The Islanders didn’t have any picks in the first two rounds, but that was about to change.
Within the hour, the New York Islanders had swung a trade with the Edmonton Oilers, sending Griffin Reinhart (the Islander’s 4th overall pick in 2012) for the 16th and 33rd selections in the 2015 Draft.
The rest is history.
Scouting Barzal was how Ward was introduced to the Coquitlam native, but their relationship didn’t end when he got drafted.
In fact, it got even stronger.
“He’s like family to me now.” Ward says of the 21-year-old NHL star.
The two still keep it contact regularly to this day. Barzal even goes out to shoot pucks with Ward’s son from time to time.
The connection between the two is how Ward got introduced to Burnaby Winter Club, where he currently serves as the club’s president.
Barzal of course, played minor hockey through Bantam division at BWC before going on to play in the Major Midget League and the Western Hockey League.
Ward joined BWC’s Board of Directors nearly two years ago, but quickly got even more involved. This season, Ward is President of the Board.
It’s a role Ward is committed to making a difference in, citing his own terrific minor hockey experience during hard times as a kid as part of his motivation.
“The team and the families that I was with really wrapped their arms around me and got me through [the hard times] with hockey.” said Ward. “So I always think about that with regards to the experience I want these kids to have at our club.”
“We’re trying to give the place a face lift.”
Among the focuses the group has is to increase fundraising efforts to revamp some of the club’s facilities.
“We’re working hard at fundraising because, BWC has always been about the hockey and that’s great.” Ward said. “The focus on the ice is obviously the most important. We’re just trying to make the off-ice experience a little bit better.”
One part of that fundraising is the upcoming gala, set to take place at Grand Villa Casino in Burnaby on Friday, February 8th.
“One thing that’s really neat about the gala is the club has never really had a formal alumni committee,” said Ward. “So we’ve formed an alumni committee and a lot of the members who haven’t been around the club very much are now all sort of starting to come back.”
It’s the first of what will likely be many fundraising efforts to come. Ward mentioned the possibility of a celebrity golf tournament as well, with the goal being the same – raise funds to help make BWC the best it can be.
“We’re working very hard to improve this facility to match the quality of the hockey that’s produced,” Ward said. “We’re trying to really give the place a facelift.”
“It’s a great choice for families.”
Another reason for Ward’s optimism is the increase in options kids have when choosing how to go about their development. While it used to be a foregone conclusion for many of the top kids to play in the BCMML, recent years has seen an increase of quality in the academy teams as more families are choosing to go that route.
“It’s all good hockey, and that’s the biggest thing,” Ward said. “If kids are playing good hockey, they’re going to get better, and they’re going to get noticed.”
But, Ward continued, there are some good advantages to the academy route.
“It’s a great choice for families because the kids are home for dinner every night. Their schedule is really well-established, they have a routine for their schooling, and they don’t play hockey unless their grades are good.”
Ward is optimistic about the future of BWC and is excited to start making changes to the club. That will include things like upgraded dressing rooms and new windows.
“There’s a real legacy of excellence of hockey here.” Ward said. “We want the experience around BWC to be as good off the ice as it is on the ice.”