Going into the draft in 2002, Josh Harding was ranked somewhere around 11th amongst North American goaltenders. When he was selected 38th overall, no one was more surprised than the Regina Pats keeper. Since then, Harding has gone on to dominate the WHL and has now graduated to the ranks of the AHL with Minnesota’s affiliate the Houston Aeros.
The professional rookie has struggled early in the season, largely with his composure more so than his ability to play the position. Harding, who hails from the Saskatchewan capital where he played his junior career, has comfortably moved into the pro ranks after a brilliant final season split between Regina and Brandon.
Hockey’s Future had a chance to talk with Harding during a stop in Edmonton last weekend before the Aeros stole a pair of wins over their hosts. During the conversation, Harding was able to look back at the draft, the World Junior Championships and also talked about life as a professional goaltender.
HF: Think back to the draft for a minute. Were you there and what were you first reactions to being chosen by Minnesota?
JH: Yeah, I was there. It was like a dream come true. I didn’t go expecting much because I wasn’t rated very high at all so I didn’t think I was going to go in the top couple of rounds. I went there more for interviews with teams. My dad and I were talking when we heard my name called. We had to think twice to get who they had called. It was awesome to get chosen by Minnesota because it’s a great hockey team and a real hockey town.
HF: Being picked in the second round was pretty high. Did it really surprise you that much?
JH: Oh for sure! I never thought that I would be going that high. I thought that if I was lucky I might go seventh or eighth round but it was awesome to hear my name and I was in shock for the rest of the week.
HF: You’re playing tonight for Houston and at the other end of the rink will be Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers for Edmonton. The two of you, Cam Ward and obviously Marc-Andre Fleury are in a group considered to be the next generation of top Canadian goalies. All four of you competed for two WJC positions last year as well. Is there intense competition between the four of you at times?
JH: For sure. When you try out for Team Canada, everyone wants to make it and it was an intense battle. They’re all great guys and I wish them all the best but it was awesome when they chose me. You have to give credit to those guys though because they are great goalies and will be great NHL goalies one day.
HF: You watched the gold medal game from the bench but seeing it end the way that it did, what are your feelings on that almost a year later?
JH: Of course you’re disappointed that you didn’t win the gold but on the other hand, I was just happy to be there. It was pretty well like living in a fantasy world. You dream of putting on that Team Canada sweater and I took in every day and enjoyed every second of it but obviously it was a little disappointing the way it turned out. Fleury played a great tournament and he deserved to be in there so I tried to just cheer them on and be one of the leaders on the team.
HF: The last goal, unfortunate break or would you have played it differently?
JH: It’s a lot easier when you’re looking from the stands to be able to say ‘Hey, I would have done it this way’ and there are moments in my career where I wish I had done something else too. I think Fleury knows that he shouldn’t have done that but he’s a great guy and he took it awesome. People gave him a lot of [hassle] for it but he took it good but like I said before, it’s a lot easier from the stands then when you’re out there.
HF: Patrick O’Sullivan is in the Minnesota organization with you, do you have a friendly rivalry with him stemming from that tournament?
JH: He’s a great player and he has the upper hand right now for sure! Brent Burns and I get it pretty good in the summer when we’re with him. He played a good game and scored a couple big goals for them so he deserves to have the bragging rights right now.
HF: How have the Aeros been playing so far this year?
JH: We know we can play better than we have been. We’ve been playing good, but there have been some mental lapses that have cost us. But I think we’ve learned our lesson so we need to go out there and have a good game today.
HF: I’m wondering what the biggest challenge is for you stepping up to the pro level. Last year you were one of the older guys in the league and you were a veteran but now you’re the rookie.
JH: You can notice the change right away from junior to pro. It’s a lot faster, the shots are harder, and not too many people make mistakes out there. Slowly I’m getting comfortable in there after being nervous the first couple of games but I have to go out there and play my game.
HF: Inside the room it must be different for you too being that it is filled with men instead of 17-year-old boys.
JH: You look around the room and we have a lot of young guys, but there are some older guys that I respect a lot. A guy like Todd Reirden who already has a family and kids and it’s a lot different going to the rink because they’re supporting their families. Last year it was just a bunch of teenage kids running around and doing their thing, so it’s a whole different world.
HF: Do you have a timetable in your mind for making the NHL?
JH: There’s no date. I just want to go out there and prove that I can play at this level and hope that they realize once I do, that I deserve a shot up there. I have to work for everything I get so every day is a challenge to go out and improve my game.
HF: You’re 0-3 this year but your stats are great. Is the team just losing close games when you’re in net?
JH: In two of the three games we lost, they were tight games. In Chicago the other night they just seemed to have everything going. I’ve been playing not too bad but like I said before, I was probably a little nervous but I’m getting more comfortable now.
HF: Do you have an opinion on the proposed third jerseys?
JH: I don’t know too much about that. Whatever they give me in my stall to wear is fine with me.
HF: Coming into a NHL rink like this in Edmonton, is there intimidation at all just from playing in the building?
JH: A lot of great players have played here including the greatest player of all. It’s an honor to play in the same building as all the greats did.
If there was any nervousness or intimidation on Harding’s part that night it didn’t show. The Aeros, with Harding in net, downed the Road Runners by a 3-2 score enabling the 21-year-old to record the first pro victory of his career. In Harding’s next start against the Hartford Wolf Pack, he made it through regulation time without allowing a goal, but his team was downed in the climactic shootout. With the loss to Hartford, Harding’s seasonal record now stands at 1 win, 3 losses and 1 shootout loss.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.