Whenever a player leaves one organization for another, he leaves behind a personal support group that includes coaches, teammates and training staff.
But what happens when a player represents that same support group for a young fan he is leaving behind?
If youre Capitals forward Joel Ward, you reconnect.
Before tonights game between the Capitals and Predators in Nashville, Ward plans on catching up with Malik Johnson, a ninth-grade boy who became his Little Brother two years ago when he was a member of the Predators.
Hes pretty excited, said Ward, who invited Johnson to be his guest at tonights game. I think hes still leaning toward being a Preds fan, but Im trying to get him over to a Caps fan.
Then a member of the Predators, Ward contacted Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee two years ago and asked if he could mentor a boy. Ward had lost his father, Randall, to a stroke when he was 14 and wanted to pass along some of his own life lessons.
Its something I wanted to do to give back to Nashville, said Ward, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Prince Edward Island. They were very supportive of me and I thought it was a way I could help an individual out a little bit.
Big Brothers matched Ward with Johnson, who is now a ninth grader at LEAD Academy in Nashville. A few times a week theyd hang out, go to the YMCA, shoot hoops, and talk.
When Ward left the Predators and signed as a free agent with the Capitals last July, his relationship with Johnson was forced to change, but it didnt end.
He kind of knew what was going on and what the outcome could be, Ward said. I think he understood. He was a little disappointed, obviously. I had a good connection with his family, his mother and his dad. But hes excited for me. Weve got (Alex) Ovechkin and some pretty high-profile guys here. So hes excited and hes itching to make a trip up to Washington.
Ward said he and Johnson still talk a few times a week by phone and email and that if all goes well with Johnsons schoolwork, they may arrange for Johnson to see the Capitals play a game in D.C.
Well see how his grades are going and hopefully we can get him connected, Ward said.