Thursday, July 15, 2010

Paul Gardner, Hard Luck and a Sucker Punch

As I've mentioned a few other times, I once worked for Harold Ballard. Well, my small pay-cheque had a stamped signature of Ballard on it and had Maple Leaf Gardens Limited across the top (I really should have kept one for posterity). I was employed by the Newmarket Saints, the AHL farm club of the Leafs as game videographer. In doing this for four years (86/87 thru 89/90), I got to chat nightly with the coach of the Saints, Paul Gardner. After each game, I'd make my way down to the coach's room of The Newmarket Recreation Centre to deliver the video of that evening's game. I'd usually just say a quick, "Tough loss again Gardsy", but once in a while we'd have a quick chat. Once, when a younger cousin of mine was in the hospital for some surgery I ventured to ask Paul for a little souvenir I could pass along. I mentioned he was a PeeWee rep goalie, and by the time I dropped the tape off that night he had one of Peter Ing's goal sticks signed by the entire team. I always liked Paul Gardner.

My main memory of Gardsy as a player was on the O-Pee-Chee Powerplay Goal Leader cards, and I knew he was a fairly accomplished scorer. In fact his 60 goals in 106 games over his first two injury plagued NHL seasons stands up well among the all-time greats. His 0.57 goals per game over his first two seasons rank 12th in history. The list is led by Mike Bossy 0.80 G/GP, Teemu Selanne 0.75, Dino Ciccarelli 0.67 and Wayne Gretzky 0.67, and includes Lindros, Bure, Robitaille, Lemieux and Ovechkin. The only ones not in or going soon into the Hall of Fame are Rob Brown, Jimmy Carson and Gardner. So what happened to such a promising start to a career?

After tearing up the AHL (foreshadowing his later career) with 10 goals in 14 games before being called up, the rookie Gardner notched 30 goals in 60 games for the Colorado Rockies. His second season was even better. He notched 30 goals again, this time in only 46 games before a back injury on a check by Flyer, Bob Dailey ended his season. He recovered without surgery to return the following pre-season only to be injured once again. In an exhibition game, he took a deflected puck flush in the face for 39 stitches. He returned fairly quickly and again scored 30 goals in 75 games.

Gardner was considered a slow skater with an average shot, but got his results by hanging out in the slot deflecting pucks and shovelling rebounds over goaltenders. At 6 feet, 185 pounds, he didn't have the size of Phil Esposito, but was favourably compared to the big sniper. After Gardner's 10th goal in his second season team mate (and apparently resident smart ass) John Van Boxmeer retrieved the puck as Gardsy's first legitimate goal of the season. Gardner responded, "Garbage goals or whatever, I'll take 'em any way I can get 'em."

Near the end of the 1978/79 season, Gardner was traded to Toronto and tallied 7 goals in the last 11 games. That was the highlight for him with the Leafs. Next season was split between the AHL (27 points in 20 games) and the NHL where he dropped off to 11 goals, 24 points in 45 games.

In November 1980 he was given away with Dave Burrows to Pittsburgh for Kim Davis and Paul I said given away, thanks Harold. With the Pens he would score 98 goals in three seasons, 59 of them on the powerplay. On Jan. 13, 1982 Gardner's career would almost be ended by a sucker punch from Winnipeg Jets goon, Jimmy Mann. True, Gardner had earlier in the game cross-checked Doug Smail in the jaw, but Mann would blind side Gardner on a stoppage of play, breaking his jaw. Mann was suspended for 10 games, while Gardner missed 21. He still led the league in powerplay goals and scored 36 goals in 59 games.

He would score 28 the next year with the Pens but spend most of 1983/84 with Baltimore of the AHL scoring 80 points in 54 games. He signed as a free agent with Washington in July '84 and Buffalo in July '85 playing a total of 14 NHL games those two years. He led the AHL in scoring and won the MVP award both seasons, but decided that was it at age 29. His NHL totals stand at 201 goals and 201 assists in 447 games. He tore up the AHL for 385 points in 238 career games.

That brings us to his Newmarket days and the begining of his worldwide coaching odyssey. His four years as the Saints head coach produced two .500 seasons, one playoff round and two playoff games won. He joined forces with Barry Trotz in the Capitals organization in 92/93 and followed him as an assistant coach to Nashville through 2003. Gardsy even suited up for a game with his short-manned Portland Pirate squad in the 96/97 season, notching an assist in his emergency fill-in role.

After some pro scouting for Nashville, the real fun starts. He took over from ex-Leaf Nikolai Borchevsky as head coach of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the Russian League. He led them to an improbable playoff run. Next came an offer to take over Dynamo Minsk in Belarus, which brought with it an oppurtunity to go to the 2010 Olympics with the national squad. After half a year in Minsk, an offer came from Germany to coach the Hamburg Freezers of the DEL. After finishing 14th out of 15 teams this past season, Paul Gardner is once again in coaching limbo. His coaching career is temporarily on hold. Personally, I'm hoping he gets a shot somewhere. Not only was he a terrific professional scorer, he is a genuine nice guy.


brian mcjannet said...

Now at braehead clan in Scotland as head coach

pow3llll said...

No longer Coach of the Braehead Clan since April 2013...

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