MINNEAPOLIS — One day after the news of his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis became public, Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding was back on the ice. It was business as usual for him and several other locked-out NHL players during an organized scrimmage Thursday.
That’s just the way Harding wanted it. He wanted his teammates and friends to view him as the same guy he was before they found out the recent news of his diagnosis.
“I don’t want people to treat me different. They didn’t, and I didn’t expect them to,” Harding said Thursday after skating at Ridder Arena on the University of Minnesota campus. “Obviously they care about you, but when it comes to going out and having some fun, they’ve been outstanding.”
Harding’s story was first reported Wednesday by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Shortly before the story went public, Harding called his Wild teammates to tell them the news. They had suspected something was going on with the 28-year-old goalie when he was absent from their scrimmages for an extended period of time.
Naturally, his teammates were shocked and saddened by the news. Most of them — like Harding, at the time of his diagnosis — knew little about MS or the effects of the autoimmune disease.
One thing they did know, however, was that Harding wouldn’t let MS get him down. That’s exactly how it was Thursday when Harding was in full pads, taking shots from the likes of teammates Zach Parise, Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak.
“He’s going to fight it. He doesn’t want anyone feeling bad for him,” said Parise, the star free agent who signed with the Wild this offseason. “He’s not going to walk around with the ‘poor me’ attitude, either. You would never know anything was wrong with him. He’s coming here, having a good time. I think everyone gets kind of surprised when you hear what he’s been dealing with.”
Multiple sclerosis is defined as a disease in which the body’s immune system “eats away at the protective sheath that covers your nerves,” according to the Mayo Clinic website. No known cure for MS currently exists, but a variety of treatments can help minimize attacks.
Harding wouldn’t go into detail about what kinds of treatments he’s undergoing — or what treatments he might endure in the future — he would only say he and doctors are “treating it aggressively.” As for his current symptoms, Harding said he feels good aside from the occasional fatigue and restless nights.
“Those are minor things,” he said.
Harding was a second-round pick of the Wild back in 2002. He made his NHL debut during the 2005-06 season and has since been splitting time in net with veteran Niklas Backstrom. Last season, Harding made 30 starts for Minnesota and was 13-12-4 with a 2.62 goals-against average.
He and Backstrom have grown close since Backstrom joined the Wild in the 2006-07 season. Their lockers are next to each other at Xcel Energy Center.
“It was a tough phone call when he called me yesterday about it and talked about it,” Backstrom said. “You try to find out what’s going on, how are his feelings, what’s the plans? When he explained them, it’s tough to judge but he seemed to be in a good mood. You don’t really notice anything here at the rink. The way he’s handling it and the way he’s taking care of it, it makes you feel good.”
As the NHL lockout continues to drag on, more questions arise of whether or not the league will even have a season this year. That’s why Harding and others continue to skate in these organized scrimmages to keep themselves in shape.
If the season is canceled entirely, it will keep Harding from playing goalie for the Wild. He’s hopeful MS won’t do the same.
“If it starts tomorrow, would I be ready? I don’t know if they’d put me in goal right away,” Harding admitted. “I’m hoping whenever it does end, I’m ready to go. I’m going to do my part over here, skating regularly, working out regularly, getting back into shape and hopefully be good to go for training camp.”
Harding said he’s trying not to look too far ahead to the future, noting that it’s tough to project the long-term effects of MS. He is planning on setting up some type of charity to raise money and awareness for multiple sclerosis.
In the prime of his professional hockey career, Harding is not getting down on himself about the disease, instead, he’s trying to help others who might be experiencing the same things he is.
“That’s one of the main reasons why I came out is if you can help people learn about it, get the awareness out there, even a younger person like myself, whoever is having a tough time with MS,” he said. “If I can not let this get me down and continue on to my goal, maybe that’ll help them out. If I can help one person, that’s all it takes for me. If I can help out 100, it’s even better.”