Fans were minding their own business on Wednesday night, watching the Chicago Blackhawks play the Minnesota Wild. The Wild had struck first a minute into the first period, but the Blackhawks answered them with a goal from Andrew Shaw. Ninety seconds later, Jonathan Toews gave the Blackhawks their only lead of the game.
That’s when something strange happened. Toews’ goal came at the 6:45 mark in the period, and it was then that Wild head coach Mike Yeo signaled for starting goalie Josh Harding to come to the bench in favor of Niklas Backstrom. Harding was not happy about that, because as the camera followed him down the hallway they caught him slamming his stick in what was surely a burst of anger and frustration. When questioned about the move later, Yeo said that he pulled Harding because Backstrom had won against the Columbus Blue Jackets the previous night and was still sharp in net.
Now, I’m pretty sure that goalies have been scored on twice in the first period since the dawn of the game. It’s not uncommon. I’m going to go so far as to say it’s happened to the likes of Patrick Roy in his career. Harding had played two full games prior to this one, with a win and loss as a result. To say that he was pulled because the other guy had won the night before is a weak excuse.
After Harding was pulled, NBC Sports Network just had to mention that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis back in October. Were they implying that his medical condition was to blame for the two Blackhawks goals? More importantly, could that be Yeo’s real reason for pulling Harding? You can’t just assume something is wrong simply because two goals were allowed. Unless there was some indication from Harding that he was in any distress, allowing two goals is no reason for pulling a goalie so early in a game.
I want a better explanation from Yeo on his reason for pulling Harding. If he did play the disability card, he should be ashamed of himself. That’s not just terrible decision making as a coach, but it’s an ignorant and classless way to treat a person with a disability. Harding’s not giving up on himself, and neither should anyone else, including his coach.