Josh Harding, the goaltender, and his team, Minnesota Wild, have partnered in a ticket package fund-raiser this season aimed at benefiting people with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Athletes often are involved in medical charity work. The difference? Harding himself has the disease that attacks the central nervous system and has the potential to instantly end his career.
MS can affect such motor skills as balance, muscle movement and coordination, and can progress to severe disablement. But most are able to manage the disease with medication, as Harding has done for the past 14 months, after he was first diagnosed.
If there were a question whether the Saskatchewan, Canada, native could still perform in the NHL, he has dispelled it with some impressive work this month while filling in for the Wild’s injured No 1 goalie, Niklas Backstrom.
Including a 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Harding’s Hope Night at Minnesota’s XCel Energy Center on Thursday, Harding is 5-2-1 with a league-leading 1.00 goals-against average and a 95.3 save percentage.
The veteran, 29, also picked up his first shutout of the season last week against Nashville Predators, having to stop only 16 shots, a relatively small number.
Mike Yeo, the Wild coach, noted that did not make it easy.
“When there’s not a lot going on in front of the net, it’s hard to stay focused,” Yeo said. “Then all of a sudden there’s a breakaway and he makes a huge save. I was really impressed with his game.”
Harding played his first game for Minnesota in the 2005/06 season.
He has been their primary back-up for most of the past six years.
He signed a three-year, US$5.7 million (Dh20.9m) contract before last year’s lockout-shortened season. In a workout last fall, he noticed numbness in his leg and vision problems.
He told the New York Times that the diagnosis scared him. “I didn’t know if it would be career-ending,” he said.
He played sparingly when the season started, as doctors worked to adjust his medication. At play-off time, though, Backstrom was injured. Harding played all five post-season games in a first-round loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, keeping the Wild close in most of the games with a respectable 91.1 save percentage.
In the off-season, he founded Harding’s Hope to help pay medication costs for MS patients.
“I feel very fortunate to be in the NHL, being covered with insurance,” he said. “I want to help people who are living with it right now.”
His NHL success already has been an enlightening window on the disease – a different, but important kind of help for everyone.
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