Dedication to hockey.
These are the qualities synonymous with the National Hockey League’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. After this season, these qualities are synonymous with Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding, the recipient of the 2013 Masterton Trophy.
In the fall, Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that involves an immune system attack against the central nervous system. The 28-year-old could’ve packed up his hockey bag to concentrate on his health. However, the netminder was determined to continue his life and NHL career.
“I've realized what’s important in life when it comes to family, hockey, friends,” Harding said. “Everything in life you look at it differently. I know it’s so strange to say, this has changed my life for the better.”
Despite being dealt with life-altering news, Harding carried on, starting the season by posting a 1-0 shutout win against the Dallas Stars in the club’s second game. The goaltender appeared in two more games before he was placed on Injured Reserve after feeling off from medications related to the treatment of MS.
Harding worked with doctors to find medications that would allow him to return to the ice. The Regina, Sask., native acknowledged no two multiple sclerosis patients are the same, so finding the right treatment is done through a trial-and-error process.
“I went through a lot of emotional stuff,” Harding said. “I owe all to my family and my doctors for being there for me, because it was rough.”
After spending two months on Injured Reserve and missing 33 games, Harding returned to the ice. He appeared in two games at the end of the regular season and didn’t fare well, but the goaltender knew he battled back into playing form.
“Actually as funny as it is, it was the Edmonton game [April 26] where I got lit up. I didn't play good, but I got through the game and after the game I knew I was healthy enough to play,” Harding said. “During the game it was in my head more than anything, after that I knew now it’s time to play hockey. It was tough for a little bit, but after that game I knew I was back.”
Harding was set to backup Niklas Backstrom in the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks. However, an injury to Backstrom during pre-game warmups before Game 1 of the series moved Harding into action. The netminder responded with a stellar 35-save performance, but the Hawks outlasted the Wild in overtime, 2-1.
Harding would record his first career playoff victory during the series, while posting a .911 save percentage and 2.94 goals-against average.
Harding becomes the first Wild player to win a voted-on NHL Award. Jacques Lemaire earned the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach after leading the Wild in 2003. Harding also was the first Wild player to be named a finalist for Masterton Trophy. Harding, Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Adam McQuaid (Boston Bruins) were named finalists for this year’s award on May 14.
“I’m honored to be named this year’s recipient of the Masterton Trophy and I thank the PHWA for selecting me,” Harding said. “It’s a compliment to be a finalist alongside Sidney Crosby and Adam McQuaid and I’d like to recognize their inspiring seasons. I’m very fortunate to have the support of so many great people who have helped me through the ups and downs of multiple sclerosis, starting with my friends, family and doctors. I thank my teammates and the entire Wild organization for believing in me and for their ongoing support. I also want to thank those across the NHL, NHLPA and the MS community who reached out with their encouragement during a challenging year. I’m incredibly grateful for this honor.”
The netminder also has started Harding’s Hope, a charity dedicated to helping MS patients.
“We want to help support people that are having a little difficulty affording their medications,” Harding said. “”I've been privileged to have the support I've had. Whatever we can do in our lives to help out others we're definitely going to do.”
This isn’t the first time the netminder has comeback from adversity. Last season, he went 13-12-4 with a 2.62 GAA, a .917 SV% and two shutouts in 34 appearances (30 starts) after missing the entire 2010-11 season with a knee injury suffered in preseason on Sept. 24, 2010, at St. Louis.
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) nominate a player from each team for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, and vote at the conclusion of the regular season. The NHL Writers’ Association first presented the trophy in 1968 to commemorate the late Bill Masterton, who played for the Minnesota North Stars and exhibited to a high degree the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Masterton died on Jan. 15, 1968 as a result of head injuries suffered during a game.