by Wayne Karl, special to www.hockeycanada.ca
With all the attention Marc-Andre Fleury has received since the Pittsburgh Penguins allowed him to join Team Canada for the 2004 World Junior Championship, possibly the toughest job on the team belongs to Josh Harding.
Canada’s ‘other goalie,’ a talent in his own right, takes the assignment in stride.
“ Obviously our number one guy is going to play the majority of the games and rightfully so, he’s a great goalie,” Harding said. “I’m just going to go out there, whenever I get the action and I’m going to try to do the job.”
The Minnesota Wild second round pick in the 2002 NHL entry draft, playing in his third season with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, saw what could quite likely be his only tournament action on Dec. 29 against the Ukraine. Canada already had a 2-0 record at that point, and was heavily favored against a weak Ukraine team. Harding stopped all 11 shots he faced en route to a 10-0 shut out victory.
It was not as easy an assignment as it might have looked, with such long periods of inactivity. The Ukraine, in fact, managed just three shots in each the first and third periods, and five in the second.
“ You’ve really got to focus in on every shot and look it right into your body. When I came to the bench Fleury sprayed me withwater several times, just to keep me awake out there.”
It’s not at all what Harding is used to night after night in Regina.
“ But it’s a little different when you pay with such great a talent on defence (on Team Canada). They’re not going to give up that many opportunities, but when the opportunities arise you have to be there to stop them.”
There were even a few moments during the game when the inactivity tested Harding’s focus. At one point in the second period, he stopped a shot from inside the blue line with his catching glove, but the puck flipped up in the air out of his sight and landed behind the net.
“ You just have to try to keep in it. I didn’t watch (the puck) all the way into my glove there. I sprayed myself with water and thought I pretty well got away with a lucky one. After that, every other shot I watched it right in, and didn’t give up too much.”
The Ukraine hadn’t scored in the tournament by that point, and Harding didn’t want to be the first victim. They had been outscored 8-0 and 11-0 in their first two games before the 10-0 to Canada. They finally scored one against the Finns in their fourth round robin game, on Dec. 30, while allowing 43.
“ Yeah, it kind of went through my mind a couple times. But I just went out there and tried to play my game. I didn’t get too much work, but…”
Unfortunately for Harding, it might have been all the work he’ll get in the 2004 championship.