Kyle Brodziak had no hesitation about helping Josh Harding when the Minnesota Wild goaltender asked.
When Harding, who played 10 games last season after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, met a girl at the NHLPA’s annual charity golf tournament who’s living with the disease, Brodziak was even happier to have made the trip.
“She seemed really thrilled because she said that there’s not much awareness out there and she was just really happy that he was doing it,” Brodziak said.
What Harding is doing is more than just playing through MS. The 29-year-old started Harding’s Hope with the goal of raising awareness and helping those stricken with the disease that attacks the nerves in the brain, spinal cord and eyes.
When he launched the endeavour last week, Harding said he wanted to be a role model for those with MS and show that it’s an incorrect perception of the disease to think about wheelchairs and death. No doubt continuing to play goal in the NHL serves that purpose.
“I felt great,” Harding said in an interview Monday. “I almost feel better. I’ve really put my mind to this—not that I wasn’t before—but I know I’ve worked so hard to get to where I’m at.”
That’s not to say Harding’s life has been easy since being diagnosed in October. He has had to pay closer attention to his body when he feels tired and needs to plan his schedule around medications and more.
“In the summer I didn’t know how much the heat would affect me. I came to realize that it makes me pretty fatigued,” Harding said. “I’ve just got to be careful about things and know my body and learn and always just be thinking about what’s best for my health.”
Harding is trying to balance taking care of himself and promoting his new charity. Tuesday he attended the NHLPA’s tournament at Glen Abbey Golf Club, which was set to raise $100,000 for various player charities, with the winning team getting $40,000.
Harding’s team included Brodziak, Wild defenceman Tom Gilbert, New York Rangers goaltender Martin Biron and forward Dominic Moore, New York Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck and former Minnesota goaltender Dwayne Roloson.
Brodziak wanted to help raise money for Harding’s hope after being so impressed by how his teammate handled the diagnosis and subsequent months last season.
“It probably affects everybody differently, so you really don’t know what to expect,” Brodziak said. “That was the tough thing for him, I think, that there’s uncertainty for him for the rest of his life. But he stuck with it. That’s the thing that’s the most impressive is it seemed like the harder things were getting for him, he fought harder.”
Harding won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy as the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” He went just 2-5 with an .894 save percentage in 10 appearances, but just being in net was an accomplishment, especially in the playoffs after starter Niklas Backstrom suffered an injury.
“I thought that I did OK and I held my own,” Harding said. “It was exciting being a part of the NHL playoffs last year, and we can’t wait to go next year.”
Upon learning Harding had a disease that can cause paralysis and loss of vision, Brodziak wouldn’t have blamed his teammate if he retired.
“If he didn’t play another hockey game the rest of his life, that wasn’t the No. 1 concern for me. I just wanted him to live a happy and healthy rest of his life,” Brodziak said. “To see him back playing now, I think that’s a bonus and I think it’s a credit to him.
“When you first hear about something like that, you just wish him the best and hopefully they can stay as healthy as they can and just live as close to a normal life as they can. Now that he’s been able to fight through it and get back to playing hockey, I think that’s just an incredible bonus for him, and I couldn’t be happier.”