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Dan Rosen | NHL.com correspondent
Jan 31, 2007, 9:36 AM EST


Aaron Ward played all of one period in Ranger blue before he got his welcome to Madison Square Garden in a New York minute.

"I am walking off the ice and a guy leans over the railing and goes, 'For God's sakes Ward, we brought you here to freaking hit,' " Ward recalled. "I had only played one period with the Rangers. I was still trying to find my way back to the locker room."

Hey, that's life in the big city. It's even life for a defenseman who brought a Stanley Cup championship resume to Madison Square Garden this season.

It's also the exact life Ward was waiting for when he signed on with the Rangers this past July for a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract after plenty of postseason success with the Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes last season.

"I thought about this a while ago, and the realization is that if I came here years ago I wouldn't be ready for it," Ward said. "I think at 34 now, I knew over the summer what I was getting myself into."

Fortunately, the veteran blue liner has a release valve that sucks any pressure of playing in the Garden right out.

Ward is the Rangers version of a Saturday Night Live character. He's entertaining and witty, but at times a bit over the top and overbearing, but in good ways. He said his teammates have begun referring to him as "Farva", the obnoxious prankster from "Super Troopers."

"It's not so much what I say and what I do, just with my personality sometimes people just look at me and they shake their heads, which is fine with me," Ward said. "Again, I'm being myself. I don't think I take it upon myself to be the comic relief. If you know me away from the rink, I'm the same way there. I'm a find-a-good-time-in-every-situation kind of guy."

"It's a long season and there are all various levels of stress and pressure, and when you have a guy with a release valve, it doesn't hurt at all," Rangers coach Tom Renney added. "Bottom line is he's a good competitor, he works hard in practice, and his teammates recognize that. So when he brings some levity, most times it's at the right time."

Ward, though, recognizes that at times he has to temper his personality. In a locker room filled with leaders and future Hall of Famers like Brendan Shanahan and Jaromir Jagr, Ward believes he needs to be careful about where he directs his behavior.

"In terms of the roller-coaster experience (of this Rangers season), Shanny has been more of the vocal leader," Ward said. "I know there are times where we come off of seven-straight losses and it's hard to find the excitement of showing up at practice, so maybe I'll rag on guys a little bit and poke fun at them, just try to get it loose.

"When you're losing a number of games in a row or you're winning, you have to check that you don't get too high as much as you don't want to get too low. I try to prevent young guys from squeezing their sticks so tight that it prevents them from playing their best. I think I direct it towards the right people."

On the ice, Ward's behavior is altogether different.

He's simply a steady, stay-at-home defenseman, a role he's filled since breaking into the league with Detroit back in 1993-94. Ward won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998, and again with the Hurricanes last season.

The Windsor, Ontario native has spent this entire season as one of the Rangers' top four defensemen. He's been paired with 23-year-old Russian blue liner Fedor Tyutin for most of the season, and has contributed three goals and nine assists in 48 games.

"I had an idea in what we were getting in Aaron, and I can tell you he's delivered on that," Renney said. "You look for a veteran defenseman to step forward and provide those types of things that you require from an experienced player, especially at that position where there are an awful lot of decisions made. You're exposed constantly, so the experience is really important to everybody on the ice."

Ward's experience, coupled with his outgoing personality, has allowed him to brush off some of his Big Apple critics.

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