Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding ended a dramatic season Friday with the distinction of being named the recipient of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. Selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, the trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who "best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
Few players demonstrated more dedication this season than Harding. In November, he revealed he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (also known as MS), a disease that attacks the central nervous system and can cause a loss of balance and blurred vision.
"I found out about the diagnosis, and obviously it hit me hard," Harding said. "But right away I knew I had to do something to kind of get back at it and find out what would work for me. During the year I had that tough stretch. But I don't think it ever crossed my mind that I was going to give up or anything like that.
"Fortunately for myself, I had a great group around me that supported me, that was always there for me, including my family, my friends, my teammates, the Wild. Absolutely everybody was on my side. I couldn't thank enough people for that."
In his first game following the diagnosis, on Jan. 20, Harding stopped all 24 shots he faced to shut out the Dallas Stars, 1-0. This season, the Regina, Saskatchewan native went 1-1-0 in five appearances with an .863 save percentage and 3.24 goals-against average.
Harding truly shined in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he was pressed into duty against the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks after starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom suffered a lower-body injury during warm-ups prior to Game 1.
In that first game against Chicago, Harding stopped 35 shots in a 2-1 loss. The following game, he made 43 saves in a 5-2 loss. Harding posted a .911 save percentage and 2.94 goals-against average in the series, which Minnesota lost in five games.
Harding has continued his fight against MS with the launch of Harding's Hope, a charity intended to support people struggling with the disease.
"I've been wanting to do that ever since I got diagnosed but I wanted to keep it out of the way while I was playing hockey," Harding said. "This charity is going to help out a lot of people that need help. Especially with what I've been through, I've actually lived it. I know the complications that come with this disease. Anything that I can do to help, I'm definitely going to do."
Harding made it plain he had no intention of giving up on his NHL career as he battles MS. On the heels of an inspiring season that ended with some new hardware, he has every intention of continuing his fight both on and off the ice.
"What I see for the future of my career is to control what I can control," Harding said. "That's the biggest thing with MS, you don't know how you're going to feel the next day. You might feel good for the next 10 years. You don't really know what's going to come the next day," Harding said.
"But for myself, I'm going to control what I can control with eating right, with exercise, making sure that I'm in shape, and just mentally be focused on the goal."