FORMER ADELAIDE AVALANCHE goalie, Eric Lien, considers Harding one of Australia’s greatest defensemen still playing, yet he is still only 32. Lien, who grew up as a goalie, knows the value of holding the blue line, quarterbacking a power play, sneaking back door, turning a 3-on-3 into 4-3 by jumping into the rush.
Born in Adelaide on August 27th 1985, Harding and his brother Luke began skating from the age of 3 or 4. His father Grant is a Life Member of their local club and his mother was involved in figure skating. He developed in the local leagues with the Tigers and the Blackhawks, that ubiquitous name befriended by more local clubs than any other.
Chosen for the National Youth Team at 16, for the last IIHF Asian Oceanic U18 Championship in New Zealand in 2002, he helped Australia finish second to China, rallied by Johnathan Faull’s 88 save percentage, and a young Lliam Webster who finished third among tournament scoring leaders. Later that season, he trumped Greg Oddy’s dominance of the Blackhawks Junior A-Grade Top Point Scorer and won MVP.
Next season, he posted a plus-minus of 5, winning Division III Gold representing Australia, in his country’s first under-18 World Championships in Mexico City coached by Vlad Rubes. He joined the Adelaide Avalanche in the AIHL at 17, and was again voted Blackhawks MVP. Early in 2004, he represented Australia in the National Junior Team at the 2004 World Junior (Under 20) Ice Hockey Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, where Australia won Gold and promotion to the Division II Championships. He returned to the 2005 Junior Worlds at Puigcerdà, Spain, where his country finished 5th of 6 nations in Group IIB. His Junior international career produced 7 goals 10 assists from defense.
Now a 188 cm (6'2") 89 kg defenseman, he first represented Australia in the seniors in Division 2B of the 2006 IIHF Worlds at Seoul in Korea, where Australia won silver coached by Steve McKenna. In the 2007 off-season, he made the play-offs for the Dutch Cup with the Vadeko Flyers Heerenveen in the Netherlands’ Eredivisie. A season with FPS in the Suomi-sarja in Finland followed in the 2008 off-season. Over 7 appearances ('06 to '09, '12, '14, '15), he played a total of 31 senior games for Australia, tallying 5 goals 3 assists, and was Alternate Captain of Australia in 2015. In that time he won Bronze in Auckland (2006), Silver in Seoul (2007), and Gold at home in Newcastle (2008). He represented Australia in 44 games internationally.
His career with the Avs, the A's and the Adrenaline in the AIHL continued every season until his retirement in 2016 after an injury-riddled season. He was club MVP in 2010. Returning briefly in 2017 for 2 games that took his AIHL tally to 250 games over 14 seasons, he was the 9th ever player to reach that mark at the time. A long time alternate captain and Captain of the Adrenaline, he won a Goodall Cup as Alternate Captian in 2009, the Centenary Year, and scored a career total of 50 goals and 135 assists for an average of 0.74 points per game.
"I've watched him since he was just a kid, grow into indeed one of, if not the best, at his position in the country," said Craig Campbell. "... Definitely one of the best ever produced by Australian hockey." Still an A-Grade player with the Blackhawks, he was again MVP and Top Point Scorer in 2016, 14 years after he first won both awards. In 2017, he worked at Harding Plumbing and Gas Services in Adelaide.
For Eric Lien, the recent "seismic shift" in the game is due mainly to the role and skills of defensemen, and a changing of the guard on the blue line in Australia. Yet, the example set by this homegrown 2-way defenseman, who furthered his skills abroad in his early-20s, warrants a rethink of the least-glamourous, most under-rated role on the ice. Harding’s career is a rich vein of inspiration for homegrown defensemen still to come.
Ross Carpenter, 'Harding, Josh (1985 - )', Legends of Australian Ice, Melbourne, Australia, http://icelegendsaustralia.com/legends-2/bio_harding.html, accessed online .
Being a Defenseman, Eric Lien, Ice Hockey Australia website, June 15th 2016.