| Josh Harding had his mask painted to honor his sister, Stephanie, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in November. |
It was just a tribute to his big sister.
Josh Harding wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. He knew he’d probably draw some attention for having his goalie mask covered with pink paint. And he figured he could probably get some items autographed by his Wild teammates and other players he befriended in the American Hockey League.
Anything else – letters of appreciation, interview requests, massive donations to the cause, video features on national television – wouldn’t be a bonus; it would be a complete shock.
Sometimes, when your heart is in the right place and people can relate to a family crisis, what you get can trump what you expect.
When 26-year-old Stephanie Le Bruno was diagnosed with breast cancer in Regina, Saskatchewan, her younger brother couldn’t make a trip home to be with his family in a time of angst.
His job required him to stay in Minnesota while serving as a backup goaltender to Niklas Backstrom and Manny Fernandez. His time is spent practicing hard and watching most of the Wild games from the bench, occasionally getting some game action and impressing in those outings.
But even as Harding waits his turn and watches as Backstrom rack up wins, the backup netminder has been garnered national attention for his attempt to help his sister, and others stricken with breast cancer.
Harding had his mask – previously adorned with depictions of old school goalie masks – re-painted with large pink ribbons on both sides, along with the words “FUND THE FIGHT – FIND A CURE.” In addition, he started a website -- www.fundthefight.com -- where he will auction off autographed items that he collects throughout the remainder of the season. That collection now includes a stick autographed by Wayne Gretzky.
“The support has been unbelievable from the fans, my teammates and the other players in the League,” said Harding. “It’s been something I didn’t expect.”
Since his mask debuted in late February, Harding has been bombarded with words of encouragement and thanks from all corners of North America. Organizations have emailed the Wild corporate offices with praise for Josh, as well as requests to speak at breast cancer awareness functions. On March 23, he’s appearing at a Minnesota Swarm game with his pal, Derek Boogaard, on Friday to raise money and sign autographs.
The outpouring has shocked Harding, but what he really cared about was his sister, who was brought to tears when she learned of Josh’s deeds.
“She thought it was pretty cool that she was on a helmet,” said Josh.
The tears being shed in the Harding family now stand for joy. Josh found out early this week that Stephanie’s surgery earlier in the week was successful and doctors believe all of the cancer has been removed.
“They think they got it all, and now there’s just one more test, and we’ll know where to go from there.”
If Stephanie can end her successful fight soon, Josh knows that there is plenty of work to be done in the years to come. He’s now the NHL’s unofficial spokesman, and that’s a role he’s proud to take on. He’s planning on organizing an outing for breast cancer survivors to come to a Wild game down the road, as well as possibly organizing a charity golf tournament.
“The reaction is all positive and right now I’m really happy I’m doing it,” he said. “The faster we can find a cure, the more lives we’re going to save.”
That’s worth another tribute.