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Inspiring Athletes of All ABLEities

By Toni Gillen, USA Disabled Hockey Director, Minnesota District, 05/04/13, 10:30PM CDT

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On Tuesday night, as the Minnesota Wild returned to the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks, I couldn’t help but watch the steady stream of comments coming in from my players on Facebook.  The theme was consistent: Josh Harding was playing the most amazing game ever.  To them, it was about much more than just his performance though. While these hockey players have never been in an NHL playoff game and likely never will, they are a part of a small group that actually know what Josh Harding was experiencing. 

Following the game, the question posed to Harding from every reporter was how it felt to play at that level considering his battle with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  This question was posed to him over and over again. His response?  No comment. 

“Good for him,” said Minnesota Wild coach, Mike Yeo. “I think we should respect that. Even I have to catch myself sometimes. But the reality is, he’s part of our team. He’s a hockey player, and that’s the way he wants to be treated.”

Harding is a hockey player, first and foremost.  Like the players who skate for a Minnesota Disabled Hockey program, once they hit that arena, get into the locker room, put on their gear and hit the ice, they are not a person with a disability.  They are a hockey player. Although he may not realize it, Harding has given these athletes even more inspiration and validation by going about his business the way he has.  

“We all have issues,” said Judd Yeager, President of the Minnesota Sled Hockey Association. “Mine was an amputation. Josh’s is MS.  We all have it. Now, what do you do with it?”

As the series and Harding’s career continues, there will undoubtedly be more stories written about the amazing passion that he is bringing to hockey. It is also likely the media will frequently speculate on how or if his disability is affecting his performance.  But for these players, Josh will always be a role model.  Because each minute that he plays the game, he is sending a message to them.  You may have a disability, but at the end of the day, it will not define you.  At the end of the day, you are a hockey player.

 “If you have any kind of competitive bone in your body and you have any kind of disability, if you want to get in and play hockey still, you can do it,” said Yeager, who lost part of his left leg following an automobile accident in 2010.

Minnesota Disabled Hockey provides opportunities to players with all types of disabilities.  Minnesota Special Hockey supports children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities; Minnesota Sled Hockey supports children and adults with physical disabilities; and the Minnesota Warriors support our injured veterans.  While these programs may serve different groups of people, they all carry the same common mission:  To provide hockey to individuals regardless of their ability.  Their motto?  Hockey is for everyBODY!!

Click here for more information on Minnesota Disabled Hockey.

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