The Minnesota Wild drafted Josh Harding in the second round of the 2003 draft to be its goaltender of the future.

He played the majority of his first three seasons for the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Houston Aeros. He made his NHL debut on April 4, 2006 against the St. Louis Blues at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild won the game in a shootout.

He entered the 2006-07 season as the expected backup to then-starter Manny Fernandez, but an injury forced him to miss the beginning of the season. An undrafted Finnish free agent named Niklas Backstrom took his roster spot and eventually cemented his position as the starter when Fernandez got hurt.

Harding battled through several injuries, including a knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 2010-11 season, but a new challenge arose during the lockout. The 28-year-old goaltender revealed that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.

Sunday, all the uncertainty that came with the diagnosis was lifted for one night, but Harding still does not know what lies ahead.

"Everything went well (Sunday night)," he said after the game. "I can't predict the future. I can only control what goes on day-to-day. I'm doing everything in my power to make sure that I'm ready to go.

"It's just the first step. I'm gonna enjoy it tonight and then tomorrow come back to work."

He was a free agent last offseason but re-signed, before the diagnosis, with the Wild even though there would have been a better opportunity to be a full-time starter with other teams.

Harding praised his teammates and the entire Wild organization for the support they have given him over the last few months following the seventh shutout of his career.

"I can't say enough and I can't thank them enough," Harding said. "How good the team has been. From the top down, I'm not just talking about the players. I'm talking about management. I'm talking about everybody. From the top down, I can't thank them enough."

"It's one of the reasons that I signed back here. This is a family. I can't say enough about each and every guy in here. They haven't treated me differently and I didn't expect them to. Same with management. They let me earn that I can go out there and play."

The 6-foot-1-inch, 197-pound Regina, Saskatchewan native got the first taste of what games with MS was going to be like during the team's intra squad scrimmage three days before he found out he was going to start Sunday's game.

"That game on Wednesday, helped me out a lot," he said. "Just getting through a game. Getting that one behind me. I thought it was a great idea that (head coach Mike Yeo) and (General Manager Chuck Fletcher) had with playing against ourselves. Today, I felt pretty calm out there."

The Wild have not had an award winner since Backstrom and Fernandez won William H. Jennings Trophy as the goaltender(s) that post the lowest goals against average in the league in 2007.

Harding should already be the favorite to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.