Josh Harding was a surprise guest on the ice at Minnesota Wild practice Wednesday in Chicago. He hadn’t practiced with his teammates since mid-January and hasn’t started a game since Dec. 31 when complications from his treatment for multiple sclerosis sidelined him indefinitely.
Planned out a few days in advance, Harding knew he would be joining the Wild when they traveled to Chicago ahead of Thursday’s game against the Blackhawks. He's been skating on his own for a few weeks now, taking things day-by-day. “Whenever I can get ice I’ve been out there,” he said after practice.
“This is the first step,” said Wild head coach Mike Yeo. “We’ll try and figure out a plan for him going forward.”
After his last start on New Year’s Eve, Harding, who was the arguably the Vezina Trophy favorite at that time, hit a “rough patch” he said. “It’s one of those things that was out of my control.”
Since news of his battle with MS was revealed last summer, Harding has never wanted the focus to be on what he’s facing. He had the same mindset on Wednesday when he declined to go into specifics as to what complications he was dealing with because the focus should be on the Wild’s fight for a Western Conference playoff spot. He would only say it was “one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with.”
As Mike Russo of the Star Tribune brought up during Yeo’s scrum, Harding is a permanent day-to-day for the Wild. Since his absence, they’ve given Darcy Kuemper more time; had to shut down Niklas Backstom for the rest of the season; and acquired Ilya Bryzgalov at the trade deadline.
Sitting four points up in the West’s first wildcard spot, getting Harding back would just be a nice bonus at this point for the Wild. They can only hope he's able to return at some point and recapture the form that made him the league's best goalie and story for the first half of the season.
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