Josh Harding (Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
From Josh Harding's battle against MS to Kris Letang coming back from a stroke to Slovenia's shocking play at the Sochi Olympics, there were plenty off heartwarming - or even tear-jerking - moments from this season. Here are our favorites.
By Jared Clinton
1. JOSH HARDING’S COMEBACK
During the first half of the season, there was no story that struck a chord quite like Harding’s. In his second season since a shocking Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, Harding, last season’s Masterton Trophy winner, put the Wild squarely on his shoulders. Before the end of December, the 29-year-old goaltender had racked up an 18-7-3 record to go along with a league-leading 1.65 goals-agasint average and .933 save percentage.
Harding, drafted 38th overall in 2002, battled his way to the starting role, after being one of the best backups in the league. But Harding’s story became his health problems again as 2013 came to a close. Harding was shelved, albeit temporarily, with GM Chuck Fletcher citing a change in the goaltender’s medication. However, after just two starts, Harding again left the team for medical reasons. He has yet to return to the Wild lineup but continues to work out and practice with the team. Another return for the inspirational netminder seems to be in the cards.
2. PEVERLEY RETURNS AFTER COLLAPSING
It was clear when Stars players started to hop onto the ice, en masse, in the midst of play that something was wrong. During the March 10 game, Dallas center Rich Peverley, who had been diagnosed earlier in the season with an irregular heartbeat, collapsed, suffering what team doctors called a “cardiac event.” Peverley was revived and taken to hospital.
The game, which the visiting Blue Jackets were leading 1-0, was postponed and finished in April. Peverley was released from hospital just three days later and by the end of March he was taking part in light skating exercises. Although he was ruled out of returning in 2013-14, the 31-year-old says he wants to come back as soon as next season.
3. LETANG REBOUNDS FROM STROKE
When Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was sidelined indefinitely in late February with an undisclosed injury, no one would have predicted the mystery ailment was a stroke. Letang, 26, is an athlete in peak physical condition, which made the news of a potentially career-ending condition that much more harrowing. In addition, Letang had a small hole in his heart.
Initially sidelined for six weeks, he was a long shot to return at all in 2013-14. Two months later, however, Letang was back on the ice, skating and taking part in team practices. Shortly thereafter, he suited up for the Pens, returning to the ice 10 weeks after suffering the stroke.
4. SLOVENIA SHOCKS THE WORLD IN SOCHI
At the Sochi Games, Slovenia played its first Olympic hockey since being part of the Yugoslavian entry in 1988. It was a ragtag group whose members played on club teams everywhere from France to the NHL. They turned out to be the darlings of the men’s tournament. To qualify for the Games, the Slovenians, powered by Swedish second division forward David Rodman, downed Belarus, Ukraine and Denmark in 2013.
Expected to flame out in the ‘A’ Division, Slovenia defeated a Slovak team featuring the likes of Marian Hossa, Andrej Meszaros and Jaroslav Halak. The 3-1 victory, the first Olympic win in Slovenian men’s hockey history, came with their lone NHLer, Anze Kopitar, tallying just one of the goals in close to 30 minutes of ice time. Slovenia pulled off a second stunning win by beating a sluggish Austrian squad in the quarterfinal.
5. SAM TAGESON’S MAGICAL MOMENT
In San Jose’s March 18 contest against the Florida Panthers, Sam Tageson could have been the first, second and third star, and no one would have complained. A lifelong Sharks fan, the 17-year-old has a life-threatening heart condition, and his favorite team went out of its way to make his day special. He practised with the Sharks, spoke with GM Doug Wilson and had his own stall, complete with jersey.
To cap it all off, Tageson joined the Sharks starting lineup, skating out onto the ice through the giant Shark head. Before leaving the bench, Tageson was honored by the Sharks faithful at the SAP Center. A rousing ovation brought Tageson to tears in one of the most heart-warming gestures of 2013-14. Grab some tissues and check out the video.