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Hard Times

by Aaron Paitich / Minnesota Wild

One day, Josh Harding’s stopping pucks and preparing for what he expected to be a breakout NHL season. The next, he can’t even get a glass of water from the fridge.

As if he needed a reminder, Harding saw how quickly things can change.

Almost one year ago to the day, Josh Harding suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee during the first period of a preseason game against the St. Louis Blues.

The video is painful to watch. The reality of it was a nightmare.

“It was like a bad dream,” Harding said. “You never wish that upon anybody and when it happens to you, it opens up your eyes.”

After a long battle to regain health in the knee, the Regina, Saskatchewan native will get the nod in tonight’s preseason opener against the Edmonton Oilers. Harding, 27, played in that first period last September, but he also missed the end of the 2009-2010 season because of a torn hip labrum, which he ultimately had surgery on.

He was often seen walking around Xcel Energy Center on crutches last year – some days in good spirits, others in a dark mood. Family, friends, teammates and trainers helped him stay the course during a long and trying rehab.

Admittedly worried about the possibility of not having an NHL job after a series of injuries, he flew back to Minnesota this off-season for some physical and medical tests. After passing with flying colors, General Manager Chuck Fletcher re-signed him to a one-year, $750,000 contract.

“You never know what the future holds,” Harding said. “It all worked out. The Wild gave me another chance here and now it’s my job to repay them.”

The Wild has faith in its 2002 second-round draft pick. They knew how difficult it was for Harding – and they saw him fight all the way back from crutches to skates. The organization is familiar and confident in its back-up goaltender.

“They know me best,” said Harding. “They were around when I was going through the rehab and I think they kind of saw how hard I was working and maybe it was a repayment on how hard I was working and where I was at, too.”

“I tried not to give them any reason not to sign me.”

Harding will split time with prospect Matt Hackett Tuesday night, but he’s excited to get after it with starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom this season. Both have looked solid in Training Camp’s opening week, and the two share a good relationship.

“I’ve always liked being partnered with Backy. He teaches me a lot along the way. I think we made a good combo,” he said. “Hopefully we can be solid in the net and give the team a chance to win every night.”

Harding’s not only gone through rough patches on the ice, but he also had to cope with the loss of three former teammates this off-season, Derek Boogaard, Pavol Demitra and Rick Rypien, along with the passing of his grandmother. All of them will be honored on his new helmet paint scheme – in true Harding fashion – as he suits up in Edmonton.

It’s been a trying time, but now he’s back playing the sport he loves.

“Now I’m here and we can turn that page and get on to hockey,” he said.
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