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July 03, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) -- Aaron Ward turned his third Stanley Cup title into a free-agent deal with the New York Rangers on Monday.

The six-foot-two, 225-pound defenceman was a key contributor during the Carolina Hurricanes' run to the championship last month. Ward, a former first-round draft pick, scored the opening goal in Carolina's 3-1 victory over Edmonton in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

In 71 regular-season games last season, the 33-year-old Ward had career highs with six goals and 25 points. He led Hurricanes defencemen in goals and was 13th in the NHL with 164 blocked shots.

His fearless style was evident throughout the final series with the Oilers, and he even threw himself in front of a slapshot off the stick of Chris Pronger in Game 5. That painful ankle block came after he was already shaken up by a hit from Raffi Torres.

Rangers general manager Glen Sather announced the signing just hours after Pronger, the top available defenceman, was traded by Edmonton to Anaheim.

New York was thought to have had interest in obtaining Pronger or former Ottawa defenceman Zdeno Chara, but the six-foot-nine native of Slovakia signed a $37.5-million US, five-year deal with Boston on Saturday -- the first day of the NHL free agency.

With those two headliners off the market, the Rangers acted quickly to get Ward in the fold. After winning two rings in Detroit, Ward was successful again in his fourth season with Carolina.

Sather hopes those winning ways will carry over to the Rangers, who made the playoffs last season for the first time since 1997 but were swept out of the first round by the New Jersey Devils.

"Aaron is another proven winner joining our lineup, having won three Stanley Cup championships," Sather said. "He brings leadership and experience to our team and adds a competitive edge to our defensive corps.".

It was the second time in three days that the Rangers turned to Carolina to improve their club. They signed veteran forward Matt Cullen away from the Hurricanes on Saturday, giving him a $11.2-million, four-year deal.

Ward had two goals and three assists in the playoffs this year. He joins a defensive unit that allowed the second-fewest goals in the Eastern Conference last season.

After being chosen by Winnipeg with the fifth overall pick in the 1991 draft, Ward was dealt to Detroit two years later when he finished his college career at Michigan. He spent seven seasons with the Red Wings before the trade with Carolina in 2001.

Ward notched 31 goals and 68 assists in 552 career regular-season games and added three goals and five assists in 78 post-season contests. He was part of the Red Wings' back-to-back championship teams in 1997 and 1998.
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