Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

Email Michael to talk about hockey.

Josh Harding feeling "off" as he searches for right course of treatment for MS

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: February 12, 2013 - 5:07 PM
UPDATED WITH HARDING QUOTES, MATT KASSIAN WAIVERS
 
Josh Harding, diagnosed last fall with multiple sclerosis, informed Wild management that he has been feeling “off” the last couple days, he said this morning from Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
 
Harding, who likely would have gotten the start tonight against the Canucks, will not dress. Instead the team has recalled 22-year-old Darcy Kuemper, who may make his NHL debut tonight.
 
“Josh hasn’t been feeling great the last few days and we’ve asked to Josh to be honest with us and let us know when he doesn’t feel that he’s 100 percent,” Fletcher said. “He just feels a little bit off. What he’s going through right now, he’s dealing with some medications. There’s a lot of trial and error. Every situation is different. The doctors advised us of this a few weeks ago that eventually we will get to the right spot where the medication works and his body adapts to it.
 
“It’s not a one size fits all solution unfortunately. Every case is different, so we’re going to get there. We’re very optimistic about that, but right now, he feels a little off. I give him credit. It’s against a hockey player’s nature to come in and say he doesn’t feel he can do it. He feels down a little bit about it, but we really support him and I give him a lot of credit for coming forward and giving us this information. It’s in his best interest and our team’s best interest to do this.”
 
Harding skated this morning here in Vancouver. He said he has been "off," but wouldn't go into details, although he said he is not having another "episode."

"We kind of knew that this was a possibility and I’m staying positive though and it’ll get better here quick," Harding said. "I’m not going to go into too many details. Right now I’m a little off. The decision was made to take this one off and just take care of it right now."
 
He says he is "100 percent" positive he will continue to be an NHL goalie.
 
"Right now it’s day to day," Harding said. "Just taking everyday and seeing how I feel. I have to deal with it. Coming into this, I knew it wasn’t going to be the most perfect road. There’s going to be some bumps in the road for sure and there’s going to be some challenges. I know things are going to get better."
  
Marco Scandella was reassigned to make room for Kuemper, although Fletcher said there could be a couple more things that happen today. Jared Spurgeon is ready to come off injured reserve, so a roster move would have to be made. That could mean a trade, an assignment, maybe putting Harding on IR.
 
Matt Kassian was told not to come to the rink today, so a trade could be imminent.
 
Matt Kassian was placed on waivers and Jared Spurgeon was activated off injured reserve.
 
On Harding, Fletcher said this was “not something we were not prepared for.”
 
Fletcher wouldn’t speculate as to whether Harding will need a few days or a few weeks.
 
“It’s hard to predict the future,” Fletcher said. “But we’ve been told that any MS patient in the early stages after the diagnosis, there’s a lot of trial and error in terms of which medication works. Every case is different and we’ve been told it could take a little bit of time to get the right course of treatment. We’re very confident we’ll get there, but there could be some ups and downs along the way. He’s been battling through. He’s practicing today. He’s continuing to battle through, but we just have to do what’s in his interest and our team’s interest. The good thing is we have lots of depth. We have good players here, we have good players in Houston. We’re here to support Josh. He’s a great teammate and everybody in the room’s behind him.”
 
Harding said "we have been trying to take new medication and stuff like that and the body obviously reacts a little different to everybody. There’s no doubt, we’ve been told by the doctors that everything’s going to be fine, but this was a possibility. Unfortunately, this has happened."
 
Why Kuemper and not Matt Hackett? Fletcher said, “He’s been the best goalie in the American league the last month. He deserves to be here.”
 
Why was Scandella sent down? He’s been a healthy scratch for two games and he’s 22, so Fletcher says he doesn’t make sense to keep him here when they can send him to Houston to play without waivers.
 
“In fairness to Marco,” Fletcher said, “he was hurt four or five weeks [with a groin injury], played one game and we called him up. I don’t think we gave Marco a chance to get his game going before we called him up.”
 
--------------------------------------------------------
 
Here is the Harding story and blog I wrote when Harding first informed me he was diagnosed with MS in November:
 
 
By MICHAEL RUSSO
 
Sitting on a white leather couch in the living room of his Edina home, Josh Harding doesn’t get emotional as he tells his story.
He looks completely healthy. He doesn’t seem scared. He speaks so confidently, so courageously, you’d never know his life has been altered forever.
“I don’t look at this like I’ve got to take a new path,” said Harding, drafted 10 years ago by the Wild and months off signing a new three-year contract. “This is a little bump in the road. I’ve had lots in life.”
At 28 years old, Harding has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an incurable autoimmune disease where his body randomly attacks and eats away the protective lining of his nerves and causes them to scar. It causes problems with balance, fatigue, blurred vision and there are 25,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States every year.
“I had a couple days where I felt bad for myself, but no more,” Harding said. “There’s things in life that happen. Sometimes you can’t explain it. You deal with it.”
After keeping the disease private from every one other than his immediate family for more than a month, Harding began calling friends Wednesday. He spoke to nearly every one of his teammates. He called Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo.
“Josh’s competitive fire has led him to a successful career in the NHL and we know he will approach this new battle in the same manner,” said Fletcher.
And Harding has made clear that MS will not end his career.
“There’s going to be some good days and bad days, but I think if you talk to anybody in life, there’s going to be some good days and bad days,” Harding said.
 
subhed
 
It started with a tweak in his neck. That evolved into dizziness, seeing black spots, numbness in his right leg.
“I just knew that something wasn’t right,” Harding said. “Honestly, I hadn’t felt normal for a bit.”
It was Sept. 27, and Harding went in for a Magnetic Resonance Imaging test on his neck. Wild doctor Dan Peterson noticed an abnormality and summoned Harding back to his Edina practice for an MRI of his brain.
Peterson discovered lesions and called Harding back to his office that night.
“I told him I thought it was MS, and he wasn’t like, ‘Woe is me,’” Peterson said. “He’s like, ‘What do we do?’ Tell me how to go forward.”
Over the next few weeks, Harding underwent a battery of tests to rule out other afflictions. He met with neurologist Jonathan Calkwood of the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology, whom Peterson calls the “MS guru.” Peterson’s diagnosis was confirmed.
For six weeks, as Harding tried to gain control of the disease with the support of his parents, Tim and Eileen, sisters Stephanie and Becky, and girlfriend, Sara, Harding didn’t work out. He didn’t show up to skate with fellow locked-out players, who grew worried.
He has been put on an aggressive treatment of medication in order to prevent new lesions and thus further episodes of “immune system flare-up.”
“It bodes well that we got on it right away before he got into a cycle of getting run down,” Peterson said. “Maybe he never has another episode. Seventy percent of people with MS still go on to live long, productive, fulfilling lives. And from the first day, Josh hasn’t lost that ‘I’m going to kick its butt attitude,’ so he can do this. There’s no doubt he can keep playing.”
Two weeks ago, Harding was cleared to skate again.
“The boys said after six weeks off, I didn’t look out of place, which was big for me to hear,” Harding said.
 
Subhed
 
Harding has decided to tell his story for two selfless reasons.
The first is he is still optimistic the NHL lockout will end in time to have a shortened season.
“I’m a team-first guy,” Harding said. “If we play a 41- or 60-game season, you lose seven in a row, you’re not going to catch up. Let the distraction be now rather than when we’re on a four-game road trip, we need to win and all of a sudden it leaks out.”
Harding also wants to create awareness and be an example for those suffering with MS. He’s already considering a charitable foundation.
“Even if it changes one person’s life to show that I’m not letting this come between me and my goals, that would be awesome,” Harding said.
Still, Harding can’t seem to catch a break. He’s endured the physical toll of hip surgery and reconstructive knee surgery, the emotional toll of losing close friends Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien in 2011.
“Still here though. Still here,” Harding said, smiling. “You can let it get you down for a bit, but you’ve got to move past it. I know what my overall goal is to be, and that’s a No. 1 goalie of the Minnesota Wild and to win a Stanley Cup here. It would make me happy to overcome this. Not just overcome this, but to really succeed with it.
“I don’t want people treating me different, I don’t want people feeling bad for me, I don’t want people moping around. I want this to be a story where when we look back, it was a happy story.”
 
----------------------------------
 
NOVEMBER BLOG
 
When Wild goalie Josh Harding was first officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last month (read the Star Tribune’s story that will be in Thursday’s newspaper here), “I didn’t know anything about MS. I wish I did. Everybody hears about it, but nobody knows much about it unless you’re affected by it.”
 
That’s why Harding is so grateful to Wild doctor Dan Peterson and neurologist Jonathan Calkwood of the Schapiro Center for Multiple Sclerosis and the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology.
 
“I just can’t tell you how much both these doctors have gone above and beyond for me,” Harding said. “There’s no cure for it. It’ll be here the rest of my life. It’s something I’ve already accepted.”
 
Besides being provided with the basic education of the disease, Harding says Peterson is constantly a phone call away and “is just a great, great man” and that Calkwood has spent hours counseling him through every detail of treatment.
 
“There’s so much for myself to learn about MS,” Harding said. “I’ve already learned a lot, but there’s so much I want to learn.”
 
On Wednesday, Harding also made the difficult phone calls to inform Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo what he’s going through.
 
“I wanted to be the one to tell them,” Harding said. “And this will tell you what type of people these guys are. I didn’t know what to expect, how they’d react, if they’d be like, ‘What am I going to do? We’re going to have to get another goalie.’
 
“But not once did either talk about hockey. They were worried about my health. I don’t know. It was a really good feeling getting off the phone with both of them. When your GM and coach don’t look at the hockey side and are like, ‘Anything you need, just call,’ it was an awesome feeling.”
 
Fletcher said in a statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Josh and his family following the news that he has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Josh’s competitive fire has led him to a successful career in the NHL and we know he will approach this new battle in the same manner.”
 
MS is “life changing,” Harding said, but he is thankful to his fiancee, Sara, who has been a rock at his side during episodes of fatigue and other symptoms. In fact, Sara is pregnant, meaning Josh is about to become a father for the first time.
 
“She knows I don’t want anybody feeling sorry for me, and she’s kept strong,” Harding said. “I don’t know if she goes in the bathroom and cries or whatever, but she’s been amazing and if there’s anybody this has been toughest on, it’s Sara.”
 
He said his mom, Eileen, dad, Tim, sisters, Stephanie and Becky, his agent, Craig Oster, and Sara’s parents have been “amazing” throughout with their support.
 
Harding said a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders Wednesday when he spent morning to night calling friends because he didn’t want them to find out of his diagnosis in Thursday’s Star Tribune.
 
He said when he was first diagnosed, he didn’t know if he should tell anybody. Then when he’d be in conversations with friends, whether he should tell them would be running through his head, and essentially, he didn’t act like himself for weeks.
 
He had been skating with fellow locked-out players here in town. Suddenly, he disappeared for no reason for six weeks. I had gotten an inkling that he had a neck injury, but he had been seen out in public, like Timberwolves games, so I didn’t bother him. That’s what his teammates were told, too.
 
“But to miss six weeks with a neck injury, I don’t know if any of the boys bought it,” Harding said.
 
Suddenly after being cleared two weeks ago, he returned to Mariucci for skates. But he would leave the ice with no reason after 45 minutes because he didn’t want to push it. Teammates knew something was up and said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but at least you’re OK.”
 
On Wednesday, Harding began to call those teammates. Cal Clutterbuck even said to him, “We knew something was up. We just didn’t know what.”
 
Harding talked to buddies like Niklas Backstrom, Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe, Tom Gilbert, Mikko Koivu.
 
Remember, Harding’s been in the Wild organization his entire pro career. Drafted in 2002, this is a guy who actually played in Houston during the last lockout with Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Stephane Veilleux. He signed a three-year, $5.7 million deal this past summer to stay here in Minnesota.
 
“I needed to call these guys and let them hear this from me,” Harding said. “They’re my family. People are a little worried, but once I explain everything, everybody has been incredible.
 
“I tried to hide it for this long and that was tough enough. It’s time to let everybody know and get it out, but I wanted to get back on the ice and make sure I was good first. I’m happy with the direction I’m going. But there’s still a mental game. You let a goal in and you wonder, ‘Would I have let that in eight months ago?’”
 
As I mentioned in the story, Harding got a huge emotional lift when teammates who still didn’t know what Harding had been dealing with were amazed that after six weeks off, he didn’t miss a beat.
 
Now he wants to tell his story to 1) get it out so it’s a distraction right now rather than if the season starts and it gets out then; 2) tell everybody that he will not allow MS end his career; 3) be a positive example for those afflicted with MS.
 
Dr. Peterson says there are 25,000 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. every year. MS usually hits people between ages 18-40, more women than men. The cause of MS is not known, but some say it’s genetics, some say it’s activated from virus, Peterson says.
 
Harding does have an uncle with MS.
 
“Thirty percent have a second episode in a year, 20 percent may take 2-5 years. It bodes well that we got on it right away before he got into a cycle of getting run down or his immune system flaring up. Maybe he never has another episode.”
 
Doctors are treating Harding’s case real aggressively with medication in an attempt to make sure no new lesions develop.
 
There is “no doubt” in Harding’s mind he can play hockey despite MS.
 
“The way I feel right now, my attitude, the pressure I put on myself to succeed, the support group I have with my awesome doctors and my incredible family, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Harding said.
 
“Nobody thought I’d come back from a torn ACL and MCL as a goalie. I feel good out there. I feel I can compete. I feel like I’m seeing the puck good. Craig [Oster] even said, with the knee, I was farther behind. That was nine, 10 months. This is five, six weeks, and now I’m back at it. I’m way ahead.”
 
 
 
  • 13
  • Comments

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT