Playing hockey with MS diagnosis

Jordan Sigalet didn't tell anyone about his multiple sclerosis diagnosis for six months. Mike Stobe/Getty Images

When Jordan Sigalet first heard the doctor say multiple sclerosis, his initial reaction was, No way.

Nope. Not him.

Must be wrong.

"For me, I didn't really accept that it was MS," Sigalet, a former Boston Bruins prospect, told on Thursday.

"I just thought it must be something else. I kept getting opinion after opinion."

But every opinion came back to the same jarring answer: He was suffering from the incurable disease that attacks and scars the protective covering of nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

All of those memories were made new again Thursday with the news out of Minnesota that Minnesota Wild netminder Josh Harding has multiple sclerosis.

In a fine story in the Star Tribune by veteran hockey writer Mike Russo on Thursday, Harding told how he had been diagnosed with the disease a month before sharing the information with more than just immediate family.

Harding decided he would share his story in an effort to move on with his life and begin spreading awareness of the disease. He has pledged to continue his hockey career.

Almost immediately Sigalet and Harding began trading text messages, and Sigalet said they were hoping to chat Friday.

"It's pretty courageous what he did; it sounds like Josh has the right attitude," Sigalet said.

Sigalet was a junior at Bowling Green University when he woke up one morning with numbness in his right foot.

The numbness remained for the rest of the day. By the next day, the numbness had spread to his chest, then to other parts of his body.

An MRI, spinal tap and a battery of other tests followed, leading to the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. For six months Sigalet, now 31, did not share the news of his diagnosis.

He had been drafted 209th overall in the 2001 draft by the Bruins and was afraid that news of his medical condition would mean an end to his NHL dream.

"I thought if I went public they'd just want to sweep me under a rug," Sigalet said of the Bruins.

If he was dizzy or fatigued, Sigalet made up stories about what had caused him to feel unwell.

"I was hiding behind lies," he said.

But when Sigalet finally opened up about his medical condition, the Bruins responded by signing him to a deal after his senior year at Bowling Green. He ended up playing for three years with the Bruins' top farm team in Providence, getting into one NHL game.

"They said as long as I could play, it didn't mean anything to them," Sigalet said.

The support he received from teammates, coaches, doctors, fans was extraordinary.

"I wish I hadn't waited six months," he said.

It's the same kind of support Sigalet imagines Harding will experience.

After finishing out his playing career in Vienna in 2008-09, Sigalet said he had had enough of bouncing around as a player and decided to explore coaching options. He is now the goaltending coach for the AHL-leading Abbotsford Heat, the top farm team of the Calgary Flames.

Sigalet has settled into a rhythm of treatment for MS that includes injections three times a week. Now there are also pills that help treat the disease.

The options for treatment are a personal choice, Sigalet said.

A native of New Westminster, British Columbia, Sigalet has also remained involved in the tightly knit MS community. He has hosted three fundraising dinners and auctions that have raised more than $210,000, much of which has gone to MS research.

As a player, he also raised money through a number of different programs.

Now he is looking forward to sharing his experiences with Harding and, while it is bound to be a comfort to the Minnesota netminder, Sigalet expects he will gain as much from the contact himself.