MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota Wild goaltender doesn’t want to be considered the NHL’s only player with multiple sclerosis, he just wants to be recognized for stopping the puck.
But after a spectacular spot-start during Game 1 of the Wild’s Western Conference Quarterfinals in Chicago, the impact of Harding’s story is undeniable.
“That was a phenomenal, ridiculous performance,” said Judd Yeager, who watched the game from his Forest Lake home. “You can’t say enough about him, some of those saves were just incredible.”
Yeager, 42, is president of the Minnesota Sled Hockey Association. He plays goalie for the Minnesota Northern, persuaded to join the team after losing his lower left leg in a 2010 car accident.
NewsRadio 830 WCCO’s Colin Smith Reports
Over the past 36 hours, teammates have called and texted Yeager constantly, many considering Harding’s effort a watershed moment.
“We have youth in our (sled hockey) program that can look at this as an example — realize that this guy is performing at the highest level of our sport,” Yeager said. “Hopefully this sends message that if you have a disability, have a competitive bone in your body and you want to play hockey, you can do it.”
Phones have also been busy at the National Multiple Society’s Upper Midwest Chapter. The Minneapolis office is encouraged by the thought of Harding’s story receiving national attention.
“He’s certainly one-of-a-kind and his interest in raising awareness about the disease is so positive,” said Anna Kuchera, marketing and public relations director for the Upper Midwest Chapter. “For him to show that you can live so actively and so meaningfully is incredibly inspiring for the MS community.”
Even the most hardcore Blackhawks fans admired Harding’s performance, splashing encouraging comments across sports message boards. That’s usually a place for negativity and trash talk.
Actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease, took to Twitter to salute Harding.
“NHL playoffs! Yes !!! Josh Harding… Great story,” Fox tweeted Tuesday night.
Harding largely avoided the health-related questions after Tuesday’s game, refusing to dwell on his disease or journey. He was instead more upset he couldn’t keep Bryan Bickell’s final shot out of the net.
“No comment,” he said again and again.
“Good for him,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo. “I think we should respect that. Even I have to catch myself sometimes. But the reality is he’s a hockey player, and that’s the way he wants to be treated.”
Harding may not want to talk about it, but his play on the ice speaks volumes.
“This is a feel-good moment for everybody,” Yeager said. “I lost my leg, Josh has MS, we all have our issues now what do you do with it?”
Playing hockey is one hell of a good place to start.