Greg Gardner may have had most of his career records at Niagara broken this season, but the former Purple Eagles goaltender continues to see plenty of ice time.
After several years playing between the American Hockey League and the East Coast Hockey League, the 29-year-old Gardner is in his second season with the REV Bremerhaven Penguins. They finished first in the regular season in the 14-team German second-tier league and advanced to the conference semifinals.
Gardner has played in 47 games for 2,831 minutes with a 2.59 goals-against average and five shutouts and was named the league's top goalie.
"The level of play is pretty high," Gardner said. "There are only six imports (foreign players) on the team. The rest are filled with players who own a German passport. The style is less physical than back home but with the international ice surfaces it doesn't need to be. The style depends on the team but players hold onto the puck a lot more and look to pass at least once or twice before shooting. There is very little dumping of the puck, which is frowned upon."
Gardner began his pro hockey career by signing as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets on May 16, 2000. From 2000 to 2002 he played with Columbus affiliates Dayton Bombers (ECHL) and Syracuse Crunch (AHL). He signed as a free agent with Mississippi Seawolves (ECHL) in 2002 and attended Buffalo Sabres training camp in 2003 before signing with the German league for the 2004-05 season.
The most difficult transition for Gardner and his wife, Lauren, has been raising their daughter, Ava, away from family and friends. The season opened with training camp Aug. 1; the regular season ended March 1. The family returns home to Ontario during late spring and early summer.
Though he's wrapped up in his own season, Gardner keeps track of his alma mater, including the news of losing many of his season and career records to Niagara senior Jeff Van Nynatten.
"I think Jeff really stepped his game up and left a legacy for future Niagara goaltenders to live up to," Gardner said. "The number of saves per game he made was incredible and the records that he broke proved his consistency over his career. I am very proud of him and I think years from now he will look back with a certain level of satisfaction over his Niagara career."