Harding Ready to Take Care of Business
By Michael McHugh, Junior Reporter
It seemed like forever, but Josh Harding is finally making his return to the Houston Aeros lineup.
Having been sidelined since November 28, he has been awaiting this moment with little memory of why he was out in the first place. On that night, with five seconds left in the game, Utah Grizzlies forward Jeff Taffe elbowed Harding in the back of the head, sending him crashing to the ice, and leaving the rookie goalie with a concussion.
Hardings teammates came to the rescue, and when it was all said and done, there were 212 penalty minutes, 18 major penalties and seven game misconducts. Taffe was suspended for four games by the AHL.
It has been a tough recovery, but the 20-year-old Harding has made it a point not to dwell on what happened. Unfortunately that had to happen to me, but (injuries) happen to everyone, said Harding. While its not the prettiest thing to watch, I am getting over the injury. I want to get back out there and play.
Today he is ready to focus on what lies ahead while remembering where he came from.
Hailing from Regina, Sask., Harding started playing hockey when he was four years old. He was a sports enthusiast who also enjoyed playing golf, basketball, and baseball. Other hobbies included collecting hockey cards and dreaming of being a professional hockey player. His parents, Tim and Eileen Harding, gave him the confidence to move forward.
He stuck with hockey, and at the age of twelve, Josh was playing Regina minor league hockey with the pee wee Tier II Canucks. He had started out as a forward but he didnt feel he was good at it so he made the switch to goalie. The adjustment was difficult but with hard work, it paid off.
He spent three seasons in juniors with the Regina Pats and Brandon Wheat Kings, had 14 shutouts and was named WHL Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year in 2002-2003.
In 2002, he became the first-ever goalie drafted by the Minnesota Wild. It was a dream come true, and he was able to enjoy the moment in Toronto with his family, who was there to support him. Having no idea what round he would go, the thought of just being there was an honor.
My dad and I were just talking and heard my name called and it hit us by surprise. We didnt know I was going to go that early, but obviously we were really happy. This is a great organization, and I love being here, so I was pretty honored, he said.
From day one Dad has helped me out with everything, said Harding. I appreciate all that hes done and he pretty well has been the biggest influence on my life.
Getting drafted and making Team Canadas junior team were his most exciting hockey moments. His most embarrassing moment happened when he was playing a game in juniors in front of his home crowd and he came out to play the puck and tripped. His opponent took advantage and shot one in the net. Although he has to laugh now, he said his coach wasnt too happy at the time.
One thing he has learned quickly is that playing in the AHL is a big step from juniors. Everything is a lot quicker. The guys shoot harder. Its harder to keep up with the speed of the play, and the experience level of the players make it more challenging.
You have to be a lot smarter out there and your reaction has to be right on and you have to be in to every game, he added.
He has great respect and admiration for guys who make it to the NHL. While he is learning that it takes a lot of hard work to get there, he also knows that it takes leadership and determination. That admiration also shines on teammate Kirby Law.
Hes our captain and he wears that letter for a reason, said Harding. He knows what hes doing and he keeps the guys pumped up. Everyone in the room has a lot of respect for him.
Harding himself is admired by those who know him. He is good natured and they consider him fun to be around and know that he has a great attitude. His mental toughness towards the game shows, and he approaches each game focused and ready to play.
Josh has proven to be a very astute player, said Aeros coach Todd McLellan. He commits himself to the game, is very dedicated, and he works very hard.
He admits the worst part of the game is the stress he feels at his position. He doesnt want to mess up, especially with a lot of people watching, and says his head has to be in the game at all times.
Off the ice, Harding likes to spend his free time hanging out with teammates Brent Burns, Pierre-Marc Bouchard or whoever is available for the night. Some of the guys have families, he said, and so you make time for the team and you hang out with just about everybody.
He also keeps up with local Houston sports, and enjoys following the Astros and Rockets. He would like to meet Rockets players Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, and his favorite baseball player is Roger Clemens, who he thinks is unbelievable. (He should be thrilled with the news of Clemens signing on for another year with the Astros.) He also enjoys watching his favorite TV show, The Family Guy, and is a big fan of country singer Tim McGraw.
Now Harding is ready to get back on the ice, and do what he loves best - playing hockey.
He wont approach his game any differently since his injury.
Its not like Im scared out there, said Harding. It was a freak thing that usually doesnt happen, and Im going to take care of business like I did before.
Utah will roll through Houston again on February 8, but Harding says he wont let that influence him. What ever happened in the past, happened in the past, and youve got to leave it that way, he said. If I keep it in the back of my head, its not going to be that good of a game. Youve got to keep your head on straight and go out there and have fun.
Harding thinks Houston is a great city, and the Aeros a talented team. Like all the players, he hopes to make it to the NHL within the next two years.
But for the time being, hes happy where he is right now.
Just For Fun
Name one thing you dont travel without
My wallet or passport. You need that to get on the plane.
Favorite Actor -
Will Farrell. Hes pretty funny. I also like Jack Black.
Napoleon Dynamite is pretty good, and I liked Dodgeball, and Anchorman. Any movies that are funny.
What did you buy with your first big league paycheck?
A Cadillac Escalade. I bought a new truck.
One thing people find interesting about me is
My attitude. Im fun to be around but who knows what they say about me behind that door (points to locker room), but I think thats what they think of me. (laughs)