On May 4, 2000, Gardner became the first hockey player to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets, an NHL expansion team. The Blue Jackets issued a press release, which stated that their first-ever player was: "...one of the most sought after college hockey players in North America..." In 1999-2000, Gardner almost single-handedly led Niagara into the NCAA tournament by setting a Division I record for shutouts in a single season with 12 (the old record of 8 had stood for 35 years).
After a fairly undistinguished junior hockey career, Gardner was offered a full scholarship to attend Niagara University, which was launching its hockey program. Over the next four years, Greg led the Purple Eagles from obscurity into the national spotlight. In 1999-2000, just the second season of Division I play for Niagara, Gardner led the Purple Eagles to No. 11 national ranking while winning the new College Hockey America conference (one of six Division I conferences) with a 20-0-1 conference record. Gardner finished the season with a record of 29-8-4 with an NCAA-leading 1.53 goals against average! He also had a .936 save percentage (second in the nation) and a .756 winning percentage (fifth in the nation). Gardner's 12 shutouts broke the NCAA record of 8 in a single season, which was set in 1965.
With Gardner minding the nets, the Purple Eagles played in their first NCAA tournament and won their first round game against national power New Hampshire, 4-1 (Greg made 34 saves). In the second round, Gardner made 39 saves but Niagara fell to eventual National Champion North Dakota by a score of 4-1. Still, the achievements of Gardner and Niagara were remarkable. He was named to the All-tournament team at the West Regional and was on the roster for Team USA in the North American College Hockey Championships. Gardner capped off his amazing season by being named first-team All-CHA and was the conference's Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year.
In 2000-01, Gardner spent the entire season in the minors to gain experience in the professional game. He appeared in 9 games for Syracuse of the AHL and finished 1-5 with a 4.84 GAA. He also played for Dayton of the ECHL, going 14-9-1 with a 2.62 GAA and a .908 save percentage (and 2 shutouts). Gardner made the Blue Jacket roster for the 2001-02 season, but again split time between Syracuse and Dayton. He went 11-4-1 in 16 games with Dayton during the ECHL season.
In 2002-03, Gardner remained in the ECHL and played with the Mississippi Sea Wolves. During the regular season, he appeared in 55 games and was 32-17-4 with a 2.77 goals against average and a 91.9% save percentage. Mississippi finished in first place in the Southwest Division with a 44-24-4 record. Gardner set team records for wins, goals against average and save percentage.
Source: Jews in Sports