Josh Harding didn’t just show up to the rink and reel off a first half like few other NHL goalies.
“Behind the scenes, the outward appearance might be that he was just feeling good and going out and playing well, but he has to do a lot to make sure he’s in that state,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s overcoming challenges that not many people have to try to deal with.”
There were injections and cooling vests between periods to keep from overheating and countless other protocols that Harding, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012, had to ensure in order to simply be able to strap on the pads.
“There were a lot of things that unless you were part of my immediate family you wouldn’t have seen what I went through and what I have been going through,” Harding said. “There’s no need for people to feel bad. It’s just what it is and you deal with it.”
Harding, the NHL’s Masterton Trophy winner last season for exemplifying perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, has been selected as the Wild’s nominee for the second year in a row by the Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
“I have a lot of respect [for the other nominees], but this is life and death,” Yeo said.
Harding hasn’t played since Dec. 31 because of a “rough patch.” He still is considered to have a league-leading 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
“This year was harder than last year,” Harding said. “Last year you’re coping with the new reality, and this year, things were going probably the best they have in my career. From Day 1 of training camp, I just felt on. I felt back to normal. Unfortunately, things happened.”
Harding, who has started the charitable foundation Harding’s Hope, took a positive turn in March, began skating and rejoined the Wild last week in practice. With Niklas Backstrom shut down for the season and Darcy Kuemper still sidelined because of an upper-body injury, the hope is Harding can at least get to the point where he provides insurance behind Ilya Bryzgalov.
“I would love to give you a distinct plan. I would if I could,” Harding said. “I’m going to take this day-to-day and see where this takes me. I’m very happy where I’m at. I have a ways to go to get to where I want to be, but I’m definitely on the right track.
“If there’s anything I can do to help out this hockey club, whether it’s being the third guy or battling and somehow getting back in there, it all depends how it goes.”
Harding has another year left on his contract. He plans to keep playing.
“Where I’m at right now is a million times better than where I was a month ago,” he said. “The way I’m feeling right now is the feeling I had before my leave of absence. Now it’s just getting back to hockey and doing what I love.
“When you’re out an extended period of time and it’s not a leg injury or an arm injury, you take life lessons away and it gives you more motivation and appreciation for the life that we have. We’re doing something that we love and we’ve worked all our lives to do this and I don’t want to give this up.”
• Defenseman Clayton Stoner, who has missed eight games because of a sprained knee, began skating Tuesday. Yeo hopes to get him back by the playoffs, especially after he was limited to one playoff game last year because of a concussion. “I felt we missed his presence around the net,” Yeo said. “Especially on the road against some bigger teams, it would be real nice to get him back.”
• Veteran Dany Heatley was scratched for the fifth time in six games. Defenseman Keith Ballard (groin) skated Tuesday morning.