Ben Raby, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - There are only so many things a visiting hockey player can do on a given road trip. Much of these trips are spent in arenas and hotels with the possibility of some shopping or dining out if time permits.
But with the Capitals in Nashville for Tuesday night's game against the Predators (7:30 p.m. Pregame on WFED 1500 AM), Caps forward and former Predator Joel Ward will make the most of his limited down time.
Following the Capitals morning skate at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, Ward will cab 2.6 miles to LEAD Academy, a public charter school that serves 5th-to 9th graders.
Among the students at LEAD Academy is ninth grader Malik Johnson. Ward first met Johnson two years ago while volunteering with the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee.
"It was something I wanted to do to give back to Nashville," Ward said of becoming a Big Brother. "They were very supportive of me and I thought maybe it was a way I could help an individual a little bit."
Ward was immediately matched with Johnson and the two have remained in touch ever since. With the Caps making only one regular-season visit to Nashville this year,
Ward is making it a point to see his little brother even if that means tracking him down in school.
"It's going to be good for myself to get a chance to see him and take a look at his school and try to catch up with him and see how he's making out.
"We try to speak as often as we can. It's obviously a little different now with our schedules but we try to catch up a couple of times a week. When I was there we hung out a couple of days a week whether it was going to the ‘Y' or shooting some hoops, but we still connect on the phone and he's got email now, too."
Ward can sense some mutual excitement as both big and little brother look forward to their reunion. The frequent afternoons together had to end when Ward left Nashville over the summer after signing a four-year free agent deal with Washington.
"Yeah he called me," Ward said of the day he signed with the Capitals. "He realized leading up to it what was going on and what the outcome could be so I think he understood it but was still a little disappointed obviously. I had a really good connection with him and his family."
In addition to their playing sports together, Ward says he also brought Johnson to a number of Predators homes games and practices. Converting the teenager into a Capitals fan though hasn't been easy.
"I think he's still leaning toward being a Preds fan but I'm trying to move him to the Caps. But he's got a lot of guys on that team that he connected well with [during locker room visits] like [Shea] Weber, Colin Wilson and Nick Spaling."
The challenge of finding his little brother a last-minute ride to Tuesday night's game means that Johnson will likely be watching from home. But seeing Ward and the Capitals play in-person this year isn't out of the question.
"With [Alex] Ovechkin here, he could get to see some high-profile guys," Ward said. "So he's excited now and he just keeps itching to get a trip up here to Washington so I told him we'll just have to see how the grades are going and how school is going and we'll try to get him connected up here later this season."
Catch the Capitals and Predators tonight at 8:05 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:30 p.m. on Federal News Radio 1500AM and online at .
(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
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