The NHL’s end of season Awards were announced late Friday afternoon in Chicago and Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. He becomes the first Minnesota Wild player ever to win a voting based, end of season award. The Masterton Trophy is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA). It has been awarded annually since 1968 to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perserverance, sportsmanship and didication to hockey.” Minnesota Wild and hockey fans in general are aware that Josh was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) last off season and went public with the information in November. Harding persevered and returned to his spot between the pipes January 20th against the Dallas Stars and recorded a shut out stopping all 24 shots he faced leading the Wild to a 1-0 victory. He was Niklas Backstrom‘s backup for parts of the season posting a 1-1-0 record over five appearances with a 3.24 goals against average and an .863 save percentage. When Backstrom went down with an injury just before the first game of the Wild’s 1st round playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks, Harding got the call. Hards, as teammates and coaches call him, recorded the first playoff win of his career, posted a .911 save percentage and a 2.94 goals against average during the series, which the Blackhawks won 4 games to 1.
Problems with his medications to treat the symptoms of and lessen the severity of MS caused him to miss some time during the lock out shortened 2012-13 campaign but he expects to be fully ready to battle for a roster spot when training camp opens this coming September. One of the many problems with MS is that there isn’t a standard medication treatment regimen. Doctors must take a trial and error approach with MS medications in order to find the combination that works best for each individual patient.
Harding said the diagnosis hit him hard, “but right away I knew I had to do something to get back at it and find out what would work for me. During the year I had that tough stretch, but I don;t think it ever crossed my mind that I was going to give up or anything like that.” Harding has become an inspiration to people afflicted with MS, hockey players, and teammates alike. Over and over fans and people within the Minnesota Wild organization say his positive attitude and work ethic are infectious. Harding gives some of the cerdit for his returning to play to those around him. “I had a great group around me that was always the for me, including my family, my firends, my teammates, the Wild, absolutley everybody was on my side. I couldn’t than enough people for that.”
This isn’t the first time Harding has battled back after facing serious , career threatening injury. In 2010, during a September 24th preseason game against the St. Louis Blues one of his teammates fell on him after a check. The collision tore the goal tender’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee. The injury, surgery and rehabilitation time cost Josh the entire 2010-11 season. Injuries such as that have ended many a goalies career but not Harding’s. If anything he came back stronger and even more determined to excel. Harding will be around the Wild for at least 2 more seasons baring a trade or buy out. His current contract pays $1.9 million for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons quite a bargain for a upper echelon NHL net minder.
Josh has also founded Harding’s Hope, a charity dedicated to helping MS patients. You can follow Harding’s Hope on twitter at @HardingsHope and online at HardingsHope.org. He hopes to raise awareness about Multiple Sclerosis and raise funds to support people living with MS. if you’d like to make a donation instructions are on the web site. The site also includes Josh’s goal, info on MS and more.
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is named for the late Bill Masterton who played for the Minnesota North Stars. He died of head injuries suffered in a game against the Oakland Seals January 15th 1968 at the age of 29. Bill Masterton is also the answer to the trivia question , “Who scored the first goal in Minnesota north Stars history.” 1967 saw the NHL double in size from 6 to 12 teams. The Montreal Canadiens traded Masterton’s rights to Minnesota paving the way for the 6′ foot tall, 190 lb center to realize his dream of playing in the NHL after winning three national titles with Masterton would only play 38 games before earning the gruesome distinction of being the only NHL player to die from injuries suffered during a game. The Award that carries his name is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association members who nominate one player from each team in the NHL. The field of 30 is then narrowed to three finalists. This year those three were; Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Adam McQuaid of the Boston Bruins in addition to Harding.
In his acceptance speech Josh said, “I’m honored to be named this year’s recipient of the Masterton Trophy and I thank the PHWA for selecting me. 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.”
Becoming a NHL goalie is an incredible feat in itself. To play 122 games over 7 seasons with the same team is an even tougher accomplishment. To continue to play and win in the NHL, while keeping the youngsters nipping at your heels at bay, all while battling Multiple Sclerosis is a level of physical and mental toughness never before seen in the greatest hockey league on Earth. Congratulations Josh Harding. You didn’t set out to win the Bill Materton Memorial Trophy, but you earned it in a way no one else has. I for one am awed at your demeanor throughout this battle. You are personable with fans, always ready to pose for a picture, sign an autograph or shake a hand. Your enthusiasm for life and the game of hockey in the face of adversity is impressive and we commend you for it. This is Scott Drain for GonePuckWild.com saying, “Thank you Josh and Let’s Go Wild!”