Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding has multiple sclerosis
The neck problem he had was much more than that. Doctors diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis after a series of tests, and he's been undergoing treatment since then for the disease, which attacks the body's immune system and affects the central nervous system. Symptoms can include problems with balance, vision and fatigue. But the 28-year-old Harding, who resumed on-ice workouts two weeks ago without trouble, has no plans to end or alter his career.
He said his goal is to be ready if the NHL lockout ends soon.
"I'm going to do my part over here, skating regularly, working out regularly, getting back into shape and hopefully be good to go for training camp," Harding said after an informal workout on Thursday with some of his Wild teammates and other NHL players at the University of Minnesota. They've been trying to stay sharp at the local rinks while the labor dispute that's already prompted cancelation of about one-third of the scheduled games this season lingers.
When he was missing from the skating sessions a few weeks, his friends figured there might be some bad news coming.
"It's a pretty sad thing to hear when someone your own age and a friend and a teammate gets diagnosed with that," Wild left wing Zach Parise said, adding: "He's going to fight it. He doesn't want anyone feeling bad for him. He's not going to walk around with the `poor me' attitude either. You would never know anything was wrong with him."
Harding said he feels some fatigue during the day and has a tough time sleeping, but he said he's not worried about the long-term effect of the disease.
"We're not really looking at the future too much. We're going to treat it aggressively right now," he said. "We can't tell what three or five years is going to bring. With MS, you can't really know that. We're going to do everything on our part to reduce the risk of having an attack or anything."
Harding, who signed a three-year, $5.7 million contract this summer, has the Wild's support.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Josh and his family," general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a statement distributed by the organization. "Josh's competitive fire has led him to a successful career in the NHL and we know he will approach this new battle in the same manner."
Harding played in a career-high 34 games last season. He missed the entire 2010-11 season after he tore anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee during an exhibition game in September. Harding was 13-12-4 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .917 save percentage over 30 starts in 2011-12. The resiliency he used to return from the knee injury will be necessary again.
"Obviously you've got to feel a little bit for Josh. That's news that no one really wants to hear," Wild center Darroll Powe said. "But he's done well with it, and he looks great out on the ice. He's maintained a positive attitude, so it's good to see."
Harding said he wanted to reveal his condition now to avoid the potential distraction during a season if the news came out then. He's also hopeful of raising awareness about the disease.
"Whoever is having a tough time with MS, if I cannot let this get me down and continue on to my goal, maybe that'll help them out," he said. "If I can help one person, that's all it takes for me. If I can help out 100, it's even better."