The Vegas Golden Knights signed their first player in franchise history on March 6th, 2017. Reid Duke was currently playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings. This didn’t come as a shock to most since Vegas’ Assistant GM is the owner of the Wheat Kings. In 54 games, Duke has 67 points.
The signing of Reid Duke transported me to 17 years ago when the Blue Jackets were just beginning to take form. On May 4th, 2000 the Blue Jackets signed their first player, goaltender Greg Gardner.
Gardner caught the eye of the Blue Jackets during a standout Senior season at Niagra University. The 1999-2000 season was Niagra's second season as a Division I team and they ended up ranked #11 in the nation. At the end of the season, Gardner posted a record of 29-8-4 and led the team to win the College Hockey America Conference. He also broke the NCAA record of shutouts in a single season with 12. As well as, led the NCAA with 1.53 goals against average. Gardner's .936 save percentage was second in the nation.
After signing Gardner, the Blue Jackets felt he needed more time to hone his skills at the professional level. From 2000-2002, Gardner would spend time between the Syracuse Crunch (AHL) and Dayton Bombers (ECHL). He was most effective at the ECHL level where he had two shutouts and a record of 25-13-2.
The Mississippi Sea Wolves would be the home of Gardner from 2002-2004. During Gardner's first season with the Sea Wolves played in 55 games posting a record of 32-17-4. He set team records for wins (32), goals allowed average (2.77), and save percentage (.919). The Sea Wolves finished the season first place in the Southwest division but lost in the division finals.
At the end of the season, Gardner was given a tryout with the Buffalo Sabres during 2003 training camp. Even though he stood out, they were well stocked with goalies and Gardner started the 2003-04 season with the Sea Wolves. Gardner led the Sea Wolves to the playoffs for the second year in a row in 2004. They were ousted in the division semifinals.
Gardner would spend the final two seasons of his career playing in Germany for Bremerhaven Rev. While playing for the league, he scored four assists, led the league in goals allowed average, and was named Bundesliga goalie of the year in 2005-06.
Upon retirement from playing, Gardner headed back to his alma mater to be an assistant coach. He would stay there until the end of the 2010-11 season. Gardner coached Niagra to two CHA regular season championships, one CHA tournament championship, and one NCAA tournament appearance.
From there Gardner would spend three seasons as an assistant coach for Princeton University. From 2011-14, Princeton posted a record of 21-44-11-0-0.
Currently, Gardner is in his third season as an assistant coach for Mercyhurst. In his first season coaching the Lakers, they made it to the Atlantic Hockey Conference Championships. They were taken down by RIT. During the 2015-16 season, Mercyhurst posted a record of 17-15-4. Yet again, RIT had Mercyhurst's number. They bumped Mercyhurst out of the AHA tournament in the quarterfinals.
The 2016-17 regular season ended with a record of 14-18-4.