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Chris Murphy, Published July 11 2013

Wild goalie Harding lets his performance prove his ability to play with MS

Moorhead - Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding looked down at the floor of Usher’s House in Moorhead as if he was looking down at the ice after giving up a goal.

The man who stopped 123 of the 135 shots he saw versus the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first-round of the playoffs could not stop the questions surrounding his multiple sclerosis from coming.

“I was playing hockey last summer, had a little mishap on the ice, and then the doctors let me know and that was it,” Harding said at the silent auction for Cully’s Kids on Thursday. “Everything is working right now. I’m not looking for 10 years down the road. I’m looking for next year and how much I need to improve and make sure I’m ready to go.”

It’s safe to say Harding was used to shocking news after having doctors tell him he had a disease that causes blurred vision and affects balance and coordination.

So when he was asked to start Game 1 of the first round of the NHL playoffs after an injury to starting goalie Niklas Backstrom during warm-ups, Harding was more than ready despite playing in just five regular-season games. Harding stopped 35 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss. He started every game as the Wild lost the series 4-1.

“Got to be ready,” Harding said. “Thankfully, I’ve been in the league long enough where I knew that I have to be ready just in case something happened. Obviously, we wish it would have ended a little differently, but I’m happy to go in there and hold my own.”

He hopes his performance in the playoffs shows he’s more than capable of giving Backstrom a breather.

“We’re going to challenge each other,” Harding said. “We’ve always been a good tandem. My goal is to go out there and try not to lose the net and try and gain the net. And do what I have to do to get in the net, and (Backstrom) will tell you the same thing.”

Harding began playing hockey when he was 4 years old, and he never imagined he’d get an award for it. Getting the news that he was honored as this year’s winner of the Masterton Memorial Trophy – given annually to the player that best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey – in mid-June was more shocking news for Harding. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Boston’s Adam McQuaid were the other finalists.

“It was an honor,” Harding said. “More than anything, it’s great awareness for MS, and just being up for an award with two people that accomplished so much is an unbelievable feeling, and I couldn’t be more honored to have my name on that trophy.”

Harding has begun Harding’s Hope, a foundation to raise awareness and funds for people living with MS.

“We’re brand new,” Harding said. “We’re just starting it up. We got all the ideas. We just need to make sure everything is in place. I think it’s going to be good. A lot of people seem to be on board. People want to help us. Anything we raise, it doesn’t matter how much we raise, we’re doing a good job. Obviously, our goal is to raise awareness for MS.”

The 29-year-old Harding is following in the footsteps of his 36-year-old former teammate Matt Cullen and using his platform to become a role model.

“Everything happened quick in my life,” Harding said. “I’m just grateful. I remember being a kid, looking up to people and looking up to them even more when they were doing stuff in the community. Now that you’re older, you get it. You understand and know how important it actually is to give back. Matt is one of the best guys I’ve ever met. What he does is just incredible.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548