Sunday

Charlie Gardiner

Charlie Gardiner was Chicago's first hockey superstar. He led them to the top of the league and eventually their first Stanley Cup in 1934 and put hockey on the map in the Windy City.

Born in Scotland in 1904, the Gardiner family moved to Winnipeg when Charlie was 7. It was in Winnipeg where he discovered two sports that loved - hockey and trap shooting. While playing with the amateur Winnipeg Maroons, the Chicago Black Hawks, who were the League's cellar-dwellers, found the goalie that would turn them into champions.

Though Gardiner's play was spectacular, the turnaround was far from immediate. In his rookie campaign, 1927-28, Chicago finished dead last and Gardiner led the league in losses with 32. As a sophomore Gardiner lost a league high 29 games despite a 1.93 GAA. The Hawks won only 7 games. But Gardiner continued to play with unbreakable spirit, and earning high praise despite the statistics. The great Howie Morenz once claimed "Bonnie Prince Charlie" was the toughest goalie to score upon.

The Hawks continued to struggle as the 1930s progressed, but Gardiner emerged to become what many people feel was the best goalie of his day. He posted 42 shutouts and 2.02 GAA in 7 seasons. He won the Vezina Trophy in 1932 and 1934 and was named to 4 All Star Teams. He played with a team that offered very little offensive support (the whole team scored only 33 goals in 44 games in 1928-29). But Gardiner's play, much like that of Dominik Hasek years later with Buffalo, made the team a contender to reckon with.

Gardiner's finest moment came in the 1934 playoffs, as "Smiling Charlie" advanced the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Finals against Detroit. This despite the fact that Gardiner was feeling quite ill at the time. Unbeknownst to him or his doctors, Gardiner had long suffered from a chronic tonsil infection. The disease had spread and had begun to cause uremia convulsions. Undaunted, Gardiner pressed on as winning the Stanley Cup had become an obsession with him. Though playing in body-numbing pain, the Hawks prevailed over the Wings. He permitted only 12 goals in 8 playoff games - a 1.50 GAA.

A well liked and jovial fellow, Gardiner served as the Blackhawks captain, a rarity for a goalie even when it was allowed. Before the decisive 4th game, the "Roving Scotsman" showed his leadership and reportedly told his teammates that they would only need to score one goal that night. Sure enough, the game had gone into double overtime at a 0-0 tie. Suffering from growing fatigue, Gardiner was weakening considerably as the game went on. But he managed to hold the Red Wings scoreless until Chicago's Mush March finally scored.

The Hawks hoisted their first Stanley Cup, but Gardiner, the only goalie to captain a Cup champion, was just as happy he could escape the ice and collapse in the dressing room. A few weeks later Gardiner underwent brain surgery after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage. Unfortunately complications from the surgery would cost him his life on June 13, 1934.

Had Gardiner been healthy enough to continue his career, he undoubtedly would be looked upon as one of the greatest goaltenders in hockey history. As it is, he persevered with an incredibly weak team and, with championship effort, he led them to the Stanley Cup in his short 7 year career.

That championship effort landed Gardiner into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945.

4 comments:

Anonymous,  7:52 PM  

Unfortunate that he died so young as he was one of the truly great goaltenders of hockeys early age. A legend in his time he inspired other players such as Bill Durnan to become goaltenders. Considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time.

Anonymous,  7:54 PM  

Unfortunate that he died so young as he was one of the truly great goaltenders of hockeys early age. A legend in his time he inspired other players such as Bill Durnan to become goaltenders. Considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time.

Anonymous,  1:41 PM  

There's a good book out there about Charlie. It's called "Before the Echoes Fade."

Derek 9:44 AM  

Greatest goalie in the game at the time of his death -- No denying that.

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