Josh Harding could have disappeared into the sunset. Nobody would have blamed him.
Given the life-jarring diagnosis of multiple sclerosis last fall, the Wild goaltender would have been justified to put his career aside and concentrate on his health.
Instead, soon after being told he had the incurable autoimmune disease where his body randomly attacks and eats away the protective lining of his nerves and causes them to scar, Harding selflessly revealed his condition publicly so it would not become a distraction if it got out during a shortened season. Sure enough, Harding did have complications, but his previous revelation meant he could get things under control for two months without being peppered with questions.
Harding made it crystal clear the moment he got the life-altering news that his NHL career would continue. He shut out Dallas in his first start and last weekend played a two-game conditioning stint with Houston, helping the Aeros clinch a playoff spot.
“I think if anyone was in my situation, they’d do the exact same thing,” said Harding, who backed up Niklas Backstrom on Tuesday against Los Angeles for the first time since Feb. 11. “You’ve been playing hockey all your life and to let something come in the way of it, you usually don’t – you’ll find a way to make it happen.
“Obviously it took a little bit of time to get everything dialed in. Every day is going to be different. You can’t predict the future, but I think everybody in my position would do the same thing.”
Harding’s perseverance and strength though when tested with true adversity is why the Minnesota chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association has chosen him as the Wild’s nominee for the Bill Masterton trophy. The honor is given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.
Since I have covered the team, our nominees have been, in order from 2005-06 to 2011-12, Wes Walz, Marian Gaborik, Aaron Voros, Kurtis Foster, Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Clayton Stoner.
“I’m definitely honored beyond belief,” said Harding. “The support has been amazing. The fans here in Minnesota, around North America, it’s come in from everywhere. I definitely will have more time in the summer to look back on everything and definitely thank a lot of people. Right now there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that people don’t see. Right now unfortunately, selfishly, I have to look after myself to keep my end of the bargain on this team. I have a job to do and I have to make sure I’m ready every day. There’s always going to be time to reflect. When that time comes, hopefully we all have a big smile on our face.”
I asked him behind the scenes stuff that he mentioned. He is obviously been run through the gauntlet in terms of treatment.
“There’s a lot more than people realize,” he said. “Obviously I’m not going to go into every detail. It’s a lot more complicated than people would actually know. I didn’t know what it was all going to take. That’s why I missed a lot of time. We had to figure things out. It’s an important thing to deal with. Unfortunate thing with MS is everybody’s different. Every situation’s different. There’s no exact similar MS diagnosis. Everybody’s different and everybody acts differently. You can take advice from people, but unfortunately it’s whatever’s going to work best for you. We had to figure out what’s best for me, what works for me and we think that we’ve got it under control here.”
Harding has become a role model to many, and knowing Harding, he will find a way to create more awareness for MS through a charitable foundation or volunteering time.
“I’m going to get into something for sure,” he said. “There isn’t the time to be rushing home to go do that. I have a responsibility as a teammate and for this team to get myself ready in case I get in there, even in practice to make the guys better by trying as hard as I can. That’s my responsibility right now. I owe it to the team to do that. There’s definitely going to be a lot of time in the summer to deal with all that stuff and look back and start up a … and help out wherever I can.”
“It’s an inspirational story,” coach Mike Yeo said. “You see what he’s fought through and worked for, it’s just another thing to rally around and feel good about. He’s been through an awful lot. Not too many people can understand what he’s been through. It’s very inspirational.”