Capitals veteran Joel Ward told me this morning that he was stunned to learn that his close friend, Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, was the target of an apparent racist attack when a fan tossed a banana peel at him during an NHL exhibition game against the Detroit Red Wings Thursday in London, Ont.
“It was shocking, to be honest with you,” Ward said. “I'm from Toronto and London is only a couple hours west of there. To see something like that go down, it's definitely shocking. It's a little disturbing to see something like that happen, but it goes to show that it's still out there and it still exists. Hopefully we can try to limit it.”
The banana peel was thrown from the stands as Simmonds skated toward the Detroit goal in the shootout. He scored anyway.
Ward, who is expected to play on a line with former two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin tonight in Chicago, lives near Simmonds in Scarborough, Ont. The two work out together in the summer along with fellow black NHLers Chris and Anthony Stewart.
“It was more shocking, especially in a hockey market like that, too,” Ward said. “When I first heard, I thought it was London, England. I thought a team went over there for an exhibition. It was surprising to see something like that happen so close to home for us.”
Ward said that while he heard some racist taunts as a youngster, he’s never experienced any incidents in the NHL.
“Growing up, it was usually in tournaments,” Ward said. “Nothing like [the Simmonds incident]. When I got older and I started playing junior hockey, that stuff was non-existent, for the most part. I’ve had nothing in the NHL. If anything, I’ve had more fans on my side as opposed to against, especially in Nashville.”
As timing would have it, Ward is scheduled to attend a dinner with Willie O’Ree, the first black NHL player, and former NHL goaltender Kevin Weekes tomorrow night in Washington as a part of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 41st annual legislative conference.
Check back here later for comments from Weekes, whom I’m scheduled to meet up with this afternoon. If you recall, Weekes, as a member of the Hurricanes, had a banana thrown at him in Montreal during the 2002 playoffs.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, meantime, has issued a statement calling the banana tossing incident “stupid and ignorant.”