(1975 - )
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.