Page 2 of 2 Previous

Continued: Recovering Wild players: A bond develops

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 18, 2011 - 7:03 AM

Thursday morning, Xcel Energy Center. There are a handful of players on the ice in the nearly empty arena, skating, passing, shooting.

Josh Harding likes to call this the IR Club, as in injured reserve. It's an important association, but it carries a difficult job description; you're part of the organization, but you don't really feel a part of the team. When you're coming back from injury, from surgery, the hardest part is not really being a part of the team.

"We're always trying to stay out of the players' way," Harding said. "It is hard. ... When you don't get to see them much, you miss them. You miss the fun, the laughter. This is frustrating, but it's part of the game."

Harding should know. The goalie and center James Sheppard are charter members of this season's IR Club. Each man has a knee injury, one right, one left, and they've spent the past few months leaning on each other both figuratively and, at times, literally.

Already close friends and across-the-street-neighbors in Minneapolis, Harding and Sheppard have developed an even stronger bond through injury rehab. They drive together to the arena six days a week (Sundays off) to stretch, skate and lift weights. They eat dinner together, help each other through the ups and downs of endless rehab. When you're out of the mainstream of a hockey team fighting for a playoff spot, it's good to have company.

"It helps to have our own little stream, I guess," Sheppard said. "A big thing about being injured is the mental part. When you're away from the team, it doesn't help. So to have your own little group, someone to talk to, express how you're feeling? It helps."

In early September just before training camp, Sheppard, who was facing an important season before entering free agency, was in Colorado training at altitude to get ready. Then, while riding an ATV, he swerved to miss a vehicle and hit his left knee, breaking the kneecap. He had surgery shortly thereafter.

Harding? He spent all summer working his way back from hip surgery. He was in a contract year, too, and was having a strong training camp. On Sept. 24, in the first period of his preseason debut, he made a save and was getting up when St. Louis' Brad Boyes fell on his right leg, tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. The absolute low point was sitting in head athletic trainer Don Fuller's office when the MRI results came in. Torn ligaments, surgery needed. There were tears in Harding's eyes. He spent a month on crutches letting the MCL heal a bit on its own, then had surgery to repair the knee.

Both players have been on the comeback ever since.

On Thursday, Harding and Sheppard were joined by Marek Zidlicky, Guillaume Latendresse and Marco Scandella on the ice. Fuller was there, too, and strength and conditioning coach Chris Pietrzak-Wegner was in goalie pads. The players skated. Harding took shots. He hasn't been cleared to go down into the butterfly yet, so he made like an old-school stand-up goalie. ("A lot of pucks go in," he joked.)

By the bench Sheppard grabbed a board and started drawing up a drill.

"Class, class," he called out, smiling. Zidlicky skated up. "What's up, Coach?" he said. Harding laughed. "Coach? He doesn't even know how to spell the word."

In this thing together

Shortly after his surgery, all Sheppard could do was sit on a couch while a machine moved his leg. A couch is a haven when you are playing every other night. But during rehab?

"It's the worst possible thing," Sheppard said.

In the days following surgery, Harding would help Sheppard into the passenger seat, rear-end first, then bend over and lift Sheppard's leg in before driving them to work. Weeks later, the scene reversed. It was Sheppard helping Harding in.

They have been helping each other ever since. Harding said they have become like brothers; Sheppard joked that they often need some time apart. Harding has a new dog, and Sheppard is officially the dog's uncle.

How much harder would this have been to do alone?

"It would have been very hard," Harding said. "It helps to have somebody to relate to."

As Sheppard said, sometimes it's nice just to be hanging with someone who is unable to do the same things you can't do. They keep each other company, work out in the bowels of the arena while the games are going on.

"We're on the same wavelength," he said.

And the same difficult road.

Future uncertain for both

Both are holding out hope they will be ready to play at some point this season, though time is getting short and the odds are long. Neither can be put through waivers and sent to AHL Houston after Feb. 28, meaning both are likely to head into free agency not having played at all this season.

Not surprising, then, that Sheppard said "the uncertainty" is the hardest part of the process.

"I don't regret what I did, but I was really excited to show what I could do this year," Sheppard said. "It was a huge year for me. For something like this to happen in one of the biggest years of my life was, well, let's just say it gives you some perspective. But it also drives me to be better than I was when I was injured. I've learned a lot in the last year."

Harding prefers not to dwell on the future.

"We have two unbelievable goaltenders here,'' he said, referring to Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore, who was signed in the wake of Harding's injury. "My main focus is trying to get healthy. Once I'm healthy, I'll deal with what happens then."

The possibility remains the two friends could be across the country from each other instead of across the street. They choose not to think about that now. Instead, they stretch, work out, skate and watch as much of the Wild games as they can take.

"I want this team to win more than anything," Harding said. "But, when you're used to playing, it's hard to watch. I'm not a fan of watching."

  • related content

  • Wild-Anaheim game preview

    Thursday February 17, 2011

    Preview: The Wild has lost two consecutive, falling three points out of the top eight in the Western Conference. Anaheim was sixth in the West entering Thursday night's games. The...

  • James Sheppard (left), Josh Harding

  • WILD VS. ANAHEIM • 7 tonight at Xcel Energy Center • TV: FSN (830-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Detroit 69 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Portland 94 FINAL
Cleveland 99
Sacramento 102 FINAL
Toronto 119
Boston 98 FINAL
Minnesota 110
Dallas 94 FINAL
Houston 99
Denver 93 FINAL
New Orleans 85
Brooklyn 102 FINAL
Atlanta 113
Oklahoma City 92 FINAL
New York 100
Charlotte 86 FINAL
San Antonio 95
LA Clippers 94 FINAL
Utah 89
Washington 98 FINAL
Phoenix 106
Toronto 1 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Pittsburgh 0 FINAL
Washington 4
Chicago 3 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Temple 86 FINAL
UCF 62
Winthrop 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 68
Lafayette 59 FINAL
Colgate 54
Northeastern 60 FINAL
Drexel 65
Wake Forest 76 FINAL
Florida State 82
Rhode Island 64 FINAL
Fordham 63
Delaware 82 FINAL
James Madison 88
South Carolina 58 FINAL
LSU 64
New Hampshire 63 FINAL
Maine 58
Seton Hall 80 FINAL
Marquette 70
Binghamton 68 FINAL
UMBC 56
American Univ 54 FINAL
Navy 64
Elon 65 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 82
Wright State 76 FINAL
Oakland 84
Minnesota 58 FINAL
Penn State 63
Duquesne 55 FINAL
Richmond 86
SMU 63 FINAL
South Florida 52
Hartford 66 FINAL
Stony Brook 72
Albany 47 FINAL
Vermont 44
Hofstra 79 FINAL
William & Mary 100
UNC-Asheville 74 FINAL
Longwood 64
Radford 84 FINAL
Char Southern 77
Holy Cross 0 Postponed
Loyola-Maryland 0
Duke 73 FINAL
Notre Dame 77
Texas Tech 36 FINAL
Oklahoma 81
Oregon State 55 FINAL
Arizona State 73
Morehead State 82 FINAL
Austin Peay 69
Drake 69 FINAL
Bradley 57
Lehigh 62 FINAL
Bucknell 68
Rice 48 FINAL
Houston 59
Missouri State 57 FINAL
Illinois State 67
Loyola-Chicago 47 FINAL
Wichita State 58
Nebraska Omaha 64 FINAL
South Dakota St 86
Northern Iowa 59 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
Louisville 81 FINAL
Boston College 72
St Johns 74 FINAL
Creighton 77
East Carolina 58 FINAL
Memphis 70
Georgia Tech 70 FINAL
Miami-Florida 50
Miss State 73 FINAL
Ole Miss 79
Clemson 68 FINAL
NC State 57
Indiana 67 FINAL
Purdue 83
Kansas 64 FINAL
TCU 61
Oregon 56 FINAL
Arizona 90
Air Force 66 FINAL
San Jose St 52
Stanford 84 FINAL
Washington 74
Rider 56 FINAL
Siena 49
Dayton 76 FINAL
Richmond 62
Eastern Kentucky 53 FINAL
Jacksonville St 73
Saint Josephs 0 Postponed
Saint Louis 0
UMBC 71 FINAL
Binghamton 55
Akron 60 FINAL
Ohio U 72
Ball State 72 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 55
Memphis 56 FINAL
Cincinnati 44
East Carolina 32 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 87
Murray State 59 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 75
Kent State 63 FINAL
Central Michigan 65
UT Martin 64 FINAL
Tennessee St 58
Eastern Michigan 56 FINAL
Western Mich 83
Bucknell 61 FINAL
Lehigh 76
Indiana 57 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Colgate 56 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Fordham 66 FINAL
Davidson 45
Duquesne 76 FINAL
St Bonaventure 64
George Mason 66 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 70
Detroit 59 FINAL
Youngstown St 58
Army 0 Postponed
Boston U 0
Loyola-Maryland 0 Postponed
Holy Cross 0
SMU 58 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Oklahoma St 54 FINAL
Kansas State 52
West Virginia 57 FINAL
Texas Tech 73
Denver 56 FINAL
South Dakota 82
Northwestern St 46 FINAL
Central Arkansas 63
Austin Peay 67 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 87
Kansas 61 FINAL
Iowa State 56
Bowling Green 50 FINAL
Northern Ill 67
Penn State 64 FINAL
Minnesota 75
San Jose St 80 FINAL
Air Force 83
Boise State 82 FINAL
Colorado State 83
Utah State 51 FINAL
Wyoming 86
San Diego State 50 FINAL
Fresno State 57
Nevada 52 FINAL
UNLV 75
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: What chance does the Wild have of making the playoffs?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close