Josh Harding could have disappeared into the sunset. Nobody would have blamed him.
Given the life-jarring diagnosis of multiple sclerosis last fall, the Wild goaltender would have been justified to put his career aside and concentrate on his health.
Instead, soon after being told he had the incurable autoimmune disease, Harding selflessly revealed his condition publicly so it would not become a distraction if it got out during a shortened season. Sure enough, Harding did have complications, but his previous revelation meant he could get things under control for two months without being peppered with questions.
Harding made it crystal clear the moment he got the life-altering news that his NHL career would continue. He shut out Dallas in his first start and last weekend played a two-game conditioning stint with Houston, helping the Aeros clinch an AHL playoff spot.
“I think if anyone was in my situation, they’d do the exact same thing,” said Harding, who backed up Niklas Backstrom on Tuesday against Los Angeles for the first time since Feb. 11. “You’ve been playing hockey all your life and to let something come in the way of it, you usually don’t — you’ll find a way to make it happen.
“Obviously it took a little bit of time to get everything dialed in. Every day is going to be different. You can’t predict the future, but I think everybody in my position would do the same thing.”
Harding’s perseverance and strength when tested with true adversity is why the Minnesota chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association has chosen him as the Wild’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy. The honor is given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.
“I’m definitely honored beyond belief,” said Harding, who behind the scenes has been run through the gantlet in order to treat MS. “Right now unfortunately, selfishly, I have to look after myself to keep my end of the bargain on this team. I have a job to do, and I have to make sure I’m ready every day.
“There’s always going to be time to reflect. When that time comes, hopefully we all have a big smile on our face.”
Harding is touched by the support he has received in Minnesota and internationally, and says he wants to find a way to thank those people. He has become a role model to many, and knowing Harding, he will find a way to create more awareness for MS through a charitable foundation or volunteering time.
“It’s an inspirational story,” coach Mike Yeo said.
Dowell makes NHL debut
Jake Dowell, signed to a two-year deal as a free agent last July (one-way contract next season, meaning he has an inside track to making the team), made his Wild debut against the Kings.
He played on the left side of Zenon Konopka, who missed five games with a broken foot, and Torrey Mitchell as Yeo tried to revive a true fourth-line identity lost since injuries to Mike Rupp and Konopka.
“He’s going to go in straight lines, he’s going to finish checks and he’s going to be responsible defensively,” Yeo said. “Let’s get back to an identity with that line — a line that is tough to play against.”
Dowell was excited by the call-up, saying, “Who wouldn’t want to be in this game?”
Rupp (knee) is skating longer and longer daily with hopes of a quick return. “Frustrating,” he said.