Recovering Wild players: A bond develops

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

Wild goalie Josh Harding and center James Sheppard give each other someone to lean on while rehabbing from devastating knee injuries.

hide

Wild players James Sheppard, left, and Josh Harding prepared to take the ice Thursday as they continue the long road back from knee injuries. β€œIt helps to have somebody to relate to,’’ Harding said.

Photo: Jules Ameel, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

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...

  • 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

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland - WP: J. Tomlin 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: S. Downs 2
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: C. Bassitt 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado - WP: T. Matzek 2 FINAL
Arizona - LP: V. Nuno 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wada 2 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 13
Los Angeles - LP: J. Wright 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Stauffer 2
Milwaukee - LP: M. Fiers 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: J. Peavy 3
Oakland - LP: J. Samardzija 0 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: Y. Herrera 2
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 3 FINAL
Seattle - LP: R. Elias 1
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 FINAL
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 37 FINAL
Oklahoma State 31
(14) Wisconsin 24 FINAL
(13) LSU 28
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
South Dakota 13 FINAL
(3) Oregon 62
(25) Washington 17 FINAL
Hawaii 16
Utah State 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Portland 3 FINAL
Vancouver FC 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77
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: Which local pro team are you most excited about?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close