When Josh Harding made a sweeping glove save at today’s Minnesota Wild optional skate, you could almost see the smile beaming out from underneath his goalie mask, glowing radiantly across the ice. The skaters attending the practice could feel it too, as they let out a loud whoop in approval.
Harding was on the ice and took shots from teammates for the first time since being placed on Injured Reserve on Feb. 12. He continues to receive treatment for multiple sclerosis and has been “feeling great” lately.
“I was excited to come to the rink,” Harding said with a smile. “I was here early and got warmed up, it was an exciting day.”
The 28-year-old said that there is not one right treatment for all MS patients and finding the right set of medications can only be achieved through trial and error. At times, that was the most difficult part of the process.
“It’s frustrating more than anything,” Harding said. “The one thing that the doctors have taught me, every case of MS is different; you really don’t have that baseline where you can look at somebody in a similar situation because their MS probably isn’t the same as yours. You have to find what works for you.”
But with patience, Harding feels that they have found a treatment that will allow him to continue to move forward.
“Right now I’m excited,” Harding said. “I think we found the right (treatment) and we’re going to keep going and feeling good.”
Although there is no timetable on his full return, Harding said that he has been on the right track for the last few weeks.
“I feel like I’ve got energy,” Harding said. “I’ve been working out hard and now skating a couple of times.”
The Regina, Sask., native has been going through off-ice conditioning and was on the ice twice before today, but this is the first time he has faced his teammates. Although it wasn’t an official team practice, it was still great to see the netminder on the ice.
“Just even getting out there with some of the guys is a big step,” Harding said.
Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the fall and started the season with the Wild. He skated in four games before he began to “feel off.” There were times throughout the treatment process when things were frightening for the goaltender. Things that he said he had taken for granted, like being a young athlete in prime physical conditioning, were suddenly brought to his attention.
“A couple days you wonder: ‘Are things going to get better?’” Harding questioned. “The scariest thing was when I tried some things that were supposed to help me and they didn’t. That was when it started getting to me and this might be serious. You think about hockey, how your life is going to change…
“I don’t know if it's fair to say I ever thought that hockey would be completely over, but it was scary. When things aren’t going good you think of the negatives and that’s what I did sometimes, unfortunately.”
But through the difficulties, Harding stuck with the treatment with the goal of getting back onto the ice. There has been an outpouring of support from fans, the coaching staff and his teammates. A key to getting back onto the ice has been Harding’s attitude throughout the process.
“I think everybody is pulling for me,” Harding said. “The biggest thing is that I’m pulling for myself right now. I’ve been working hard at all the off-ice things to get everything under control.”
For the time being, Harding is concentrating on getting back up to full speed so that he can rejoin his team. He is positive that he has not played his final NHL game.
“I want to keep going forward. The way I’ve been feeling, we’re going to keep pushing it and hopefully get back out there.
“I’m excited. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”