ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild have stuck by goaltender Josh Harding as he deals with multiple sclerosis.
Harding might be getting closer to rewarding their patience.
For the first time since being placed on injured reserve on Feb. 12, Harding participated in a full practice with his Minnesota teammates on Wednesday, hopefully a sign that Harding’s nearing a return.
“It was exciting being back with the boys,” Harding said. “It’s a great feeling. I might have chirped a couple too many people while I was out there. They were gunning for me today. But it was all fun and I thought I held my own out there.”
Harding, who was diagnosed with MS late last summer, began the season on the Wild’s active roster, playing in four games with a 1-1-0 record, 2.92 goals-against average and .885 save percentage. But in February, Harding had to take a step back as he adjusted to a change in medication, leading Minnesota to place him on injured reserve. Rookie goaltenders Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper have rotated behind starter Niklas Backstrom before Hackett was traded to Buffalo last week.
Harding, 28, had been skating on his own and been on the ice at the start of practices at times, but Wednesday was his first full practice back with the team.
“Felt quick, thought I was making the saves I should have made,” Harding said. “Each day is a new step, but definitely happy with how today went. I felt like my old self, which was good to feel.”
Wild coach Mike Yeo said Harding looked good in his first exposure against the team, facing shots and a normal workload in practice. Yeo wouldn’t say if Harding will be able to return with Minnesota having nine games left in the regular season, but is hopeful.
“We’re hoping, for sure,” Yeo said. “It seems like it’s taken a long time, but this is something you’ve got to make sure, obviously, that you’ve got a good grasp of it and it sure looks like he has.”
Harding said he and the doctors believe they’ve figured out the correct medication.
“We think we got it all dialed in,” Harding said. “We’re excited for the future … We’re just going to take it day-to-day. Right now there’s absolutely nothing that’s a negative to this whole situation. I go day-to-day, feeling great and I’m just excited to be back.”
Harding called Wednesday’s practice a “step in the right direction” and said he doesn’t think it will take him long to get back into form. He said he’s been watching video as well to help get in the right mindset.
Complicating matters for Harding’s return is the lack of practice time the Wild have left before the regular season closes on April 27. Minnesota currently sits seventh in the Western Conference standings heading into Wednesday night’s games.
Harding’s last game action was Feb. 7 when he came in relief of Backstrom and played the third period. A conditioning stint, if needed, would be tough as well. Minnesota’s American Hockey League team, the Houston Aeros, has six games remaining in their season.
“Yeah, considering the amount of time that he’s missed,” Yeo said about Harding needing practice time. “Now, I know that he’s been starting to hit the ice a lot more frequently, but getting out there and stopping NHL shooters, and just energy-wise and quickness-wise, he looked good.”