Josh Harding’s voice still shakes as he discusses how his career was snatched from him in the winter of 2014.
Playing with Iowa to regain his form after missing the Wild’s training camp, first six weeks of the season and having not played since the previous New Year’s Eve when complications with multiple sclerosis ended an incredible start to his 2013-14 season, Harding was playing his second game for the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate when everything went haywire.
“Probably the last half of the second period, I was really having a tough time seeing,” Harding said as he cheered on the Wild from Xcel Energy Center in Tuesday’s win against San Jose. “I felt like I was going to faint, I was getting dizzy. One time I went out to play the puck, I remember getting back to my net and I felt lost out there.
“I passed out in the locker room. I hit my head. Just a bad situation.”
Harding was rushed to a Charlotte hospital, where he was loaded with saline because he was dehydrated.
“Seven, eight bags of IV, I didn’t even have to go to the bathroom. I was that bone dry,” he says.
Harding FaceTimed his wife, Sara, in the Twin Cities. So frightened by how her husband looked, she jetted to Charlotte.
“She openly said it’s the worst she’d ever seen me,” Harding said. “She was very scared. She thought that I was going to die.”
Harding met with doctors and was told it was time to make a decision.
“They told me if I kept going, ‘It’s not going to end well,’ ” Harding said. “It was the first time I realized it wasn’t just how much I was going through, it was how much I was putting everybody else through. I still had people that loved me, still had people that I loved that are more important than this game.”
Harding, now 32, jumped out of his seat to applaud a poke-check Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk executed.
“What a save,” Harding said. “I watch all their games. I cheer for them.”
It has been almost 28 months since Harding retired. He never had a news conference to say goodbye to fans that cheered for him since being drafted in 2002. He missed former teammates and staff. Harding even claims he misses the media: “I never once thought I’d ever say that in my life. But it’s true.”
In Harding’s final season, months after winning the Masterton Trophy for persevering through his devastating MS diagnosis, he went 18-7-3 with a 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage before altering his medication in Dec. 2013. His body didn’t take to the change, and he didn’t play again that season.
Harding planned a 2013-14 comeback, but he broke his foot before training camp and that’s why he began with Iowa a few months later.
To have his career end because of an illness made Harding bitter. But earlier this season, wanting to reunite with the franchise he loves, Harding contacted owner Craig Leipold.
They went to lunch. Leipold invited him to a game, then back again Tuesday for “Let’s Play Hockey.”
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it every day,” Harding said. “More than anything, I wanted to thank Mr. Leipold for all he did for me and my family. It was long overdue. You grow up a little bit and you come to terms with everything.”
Harding helps Curt Giles coach at Edina High School, primarily working with goalies. He loves working with the kids, and loves being a dad to 9-year-old stepson, Talan, bringing 4-year-old Paisley to swimming, playing on the floor with 7-month-old, Jayden.
He’s at peace and hopes to get more involved with the Wild in some capacity.
“I’m most proud that I was loyal. This is the only organization I’ve ever played for,” he said. “I miss everybody. Just walking back in here, it’s just a huge family atmosphere. It’s like I haven’t missed a beat with a lot of people. It’s pretty cool.”
• The barbs are flying in the ugly fight for NHL participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics, which is less than a year away in South Korea.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said on CBC Radio to “assume we’re not going.” Rene Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, was then quoted by Russia’s Sport-Express as saying, “If the NHL doesn’t come to Korea, they can’t just go to China [four years later]. Negotiations will be much different.”
The majority of owners don’t want to shut down next season to send the players they invest in across the world. Some feel the league wants to pressure the players to, in exchange for the Olympics, not opt out of the collective bargaining agreement in 2020.
But NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun, “Obviously the players are not about to engage in collective bargaining in return for getting an opportunity to go to the Olympics for which they aren’t being paid.”
While there’s no hard deadline to make a decision, the International Olympic Committee needs to know, as does the NHL because a 2017-18 schedule needs to be finalized.
• Sidney Crosby, vying for the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer, reminded everybody how multifaceted he is with his stick. The Penguins superstar scored an incredible one-handed goal against the grain after flying through the Buffalo defense, then got away with a subtle slash to Ryan O’Reilly’s nether regions in the same game.
One game later, he slashed Ottawa’s Marc Methot’s hand. The defenseman removed his glove and a fingertip was gruesomely dangling.
“His finger is destroyed. It’s shattered, and he’s out for weeks,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said.
The NHL rarely suspends for slashes, but it’s interesting to think what would have happened to Methot if the roles were reversed and he slashed the fingertip off arguably the best player in the NHL.
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 11:30 a.m. at Detroit
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. Washington
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. Ottawa,
Saturday: 1 p.m. at Nashville
Sun. Ch. 11; Tue., Sat. FSN; Thu. FSN+
Player to watch:
T.J. Oshie, Capitals
Former University of North Dakota standout and pending free agent has hit the 30-goal mark for the first time.
“I didn’t want to say anything stupid. I probably did even in the short time I was there.”
Bruce Boudreau on ending his press scrum after two questions following last Sunday’s loss in Winnipeg.
Michael Russo can be heard on 100.3-FM and seen on FSN • Blog: startribune.com/russo • Twitter: @russostrib • E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org