Josh Harding and Jordan Sigalet: Goaltending with Multiple Sclerosis

By Emma Harger
Josh Harding vows to keep playing even with his newly publicly revealed MS. He can do this. Here is proof. Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE

The news that Josh Harding, goalie for the Minnesota Wild, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis is rough. MS causes the body to eat at and scar the protective linings around the nerves. The onset of MS is often in young adulthood, like in the case of the 28-year-old Harding, although it is more common in women. There is no cure for the disease, nor is there one definitive cause (environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role) so it’s all about treatment and prevention of symptoms. Some treatments are delivered via IV and some people choose other routes of therapy. Often, MS gets worse over time, causing blurred vision, loss of balance, fatigue, difficulty walking and other issues.

Needless to say, it’s tough news to receive, but Harding said he is taking it in stride. He chose to keep it a secret for a month and deal with it privately before calling each of his teammates, plus the coach and general manager of the Wild. (Interestingly, the lockout restricts a player’s ability to talk to his GM and coach, but I would think informing them of a diagnosis would be an exception to the rule.) Originally, Harding just felt dizzy, numb in his right leg and occasionally saw black spots in his vision. So, he went and got an MRI, which revealed the disease. He had the diagnosis confirmed.

The good thing in Harding’s case is that it was discovered early. Treated with a medical regimen, Harding might never have a flare-up, or it could reduce the intensity of symptoms. Many people with MS continue to have fulfilling lives and, in fact, there is another case of a young goalie who was diagnosed with MS and continued to go between the pipes.

Jordan Sigalet, drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2001, was playing for Bowling Green State University in 2003 when he felt numb all over his body. At first, he felt numb in one leg and chalked it up to stopping hard shots. But when the numbness spread, he got worried and went in for a scan that led to his MS diagnosis. The college announced that he would miss some games, but Sigalet was back on the ice after missing just one match. In fact, the college said he just had the flu, which gave him the chance–as Harding got–to speak out about MS on his own time.

He did at the end of 2004 and his announcement inspired many other college hockey players. He was even granted the position of Bowling Green’s team captain, the first time ever for a netminder. Featured in Sports Illustrated in 2005, he continued to play and then eventually got into the Bruins system. Over three seasons, from 2005 to 2008, he played generally for the Providence Bruins–though he did get to play one Boston game on Jan. 7, 2006. In a 6-3 Bruins win over Tampa Bay, he took the ice just briefly, but still the experience must have been one of a kind.

While with Providence, there was one scary moment when Sigalet had an attack in-game and passed out, which was attributed to smoke and fireworks effects used in the arena, one that was under renovation at the time. Other than that, though, he had pretty decent records with the P-Bruins and played in Europe and the KHL after that. He also won the AHL’s equivalent of the Masterton Trophy.

He’s retired now, but has gone into the goalie coaching side of things, first for the WHL Everett Silvertips and now for the AHL Abbotsford Heat.

Sigalet’s story proves that Harding can still do what he loves to do even with the condition he has. Harding has had a very difficult time of it–just last year he lost his friends Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard–and of course he is still waiting out the end of this lockout. But he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he is staying optimistic on all fronts:

“You can let it get you down for a bit, but you’ve got to move past it. I know what my overall goal is to be, and that’s a No. 1 goalie of the Minnesota Wild and to win a Stanley Cup here. It would make me happy to overcome this. Not just overcome this, but to really succeed with it.

“I don’t want people treating me different, I don’t want people feeling bad for me, I don’t want people moping around. I want this to be a story where when we look back, it was a happy story.”

Here’s to that.

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