Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 33
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
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ON GUARD: Greg Gardner surveys the action in his role as assistant coach for the Niagara University men’s hockey program. Gardner, a star goalie for Niagara in his playing days, recently moved to the Princeton University hockey program to join new head coach Bob Prier’s staff as an assistant.

After Helping Niagara Build Solid Foundation, Gardner Excited to Join PU Men’s Hockey Staff

Bill Alden

Greg Gardner knows what it is like to get a Division I men’s ice hockey program off the ground.

Playing on the first-ever men’s hockey team at Niagara University, Gardner’s superb work at goalie helped the Purple Eagles get up to speed quickly.

“The first year, everyone was learning,” recalled Gardner. “The coaches were trying to create a culture and a fan base. They put the onus on the players to do a lot.”

As a senior in 1999-2000, Gardner posted 12 shutouts and led the nation with a 1.53 goals against average as Niagara made its first trip to the NCAA tournament.

The experience of putting Niagara on the map got Gardner thinking about someday going into another area of the game.

“I got an idea that I may want to coach,” said Gardner. “I was learning so much about building a program.”

After his Niagara career, Gardner signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets organization where he played some NHL exhibition games. He ended up playing in the AHL and ECHL before starring in the German Bundesliga.

In 2006, Gardner made the move into coaching, returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach where his responsibilities included video analysis, scouting, recruiting, overseeing strength and conditioning, and working closely with the goalies.

Earlier this summer, Gardner came to Princeton University to join new head coach Bob Prier’s staff as an assistant.

For Gardner, his respect for Prier and the latter’s move from St. Lawrence to Princeton planted a seed.

“I had met the St. Lawrence coaching staff and Bob; I had crossed paths with him in the summer at camps,” said Gardner, 35, a native of Mississauga, Ontario.

“He is one of the best people in the business; he is known for his character and honesty. I had bounced ideas off of him over the years. When he got the Princeton job, my family was happy for him. I contacted him to see if he had assistants lined up and he told me he would love me to officially apply.”

Acting on Prier’s suggestion, Gardner threw his hat into the ring and fell in love with Princeton.

“Once I stepped on campus, it just felt right,” recalled Gardner, whose family includes wife Lauren, and children Aza (6 years old), Rachel (3), and Joshua (5 months).

“I was impressed with the facilities and the tradition. I am a history buff on the colonial era and I know Princeton’s historical significance. It is a great job and I said yes on the spot when it was offered.”

Gardner’s senior campaign at Niagara gave him special insight into what it takes to write hockey history.

“We had a good junior season and then we returned 15 seniors,” said Gardner.

“The goal was to get to the NCAAs. We went all-in with no distractions. We had to make it as an at-large team. Every weekend was a playoff weekend; we were a mature group.”

Gardner’s pro experience helped him mature even more. “I learned how you have to work hard every single day,” said Gardner, who starred for the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL and German club Bremerhoven in his final two pro stops. “You have to be prepared to work at practice and work after practice and always be a professional.”

By 2006, Gardner was ready to get into coaching and he hooked up with his alma mater as an assistant and quickly adjusted to his new role in the game.

“As a goalie, you can control pace and outcome of the game,” said Gardner. “As a coach, you have to step back and put your influence on the game; it is about finding that balance. You give them a game plan and get pleasure in seeing players succeed. You give them information and see them execute; that is satisfying.”

Gardner ended up wearing many hats at Niagara.

“There was a lot of administrative stuff I didn’t know how to do and I went into that feet first,” said Gardner.

“I was also given the chance to take over the strength and conditioning. Recruiting is the life blood of a program; I got on the road to do that.”

That multi-faceted experience should serve Gardner well as he joins the Princeton staff.

“Scott [fellow assistant Scott Garrow] and I are going to be doing a lot of the legwork with recruiting; Bob will have a big role with that as well,” said Gardner, who will be imparting his goalie wisdom to local netminders as he takes part in the Textbook Goaltending’s 7th Annual Elite Collegiate Camp from August 26-28 at the Ice Land Skating Center in Hamilton.

“Day to day, I will take care of the goalies. I will do scouting, video, whatever they need me to do.”

In Gardner’s view, Princeton has what it needs to build on the success experienced the last few years under departed head coach Guy Gadowsky, who is now running Penn State’s program.

“We can win at Princeton, all the opportunities are there,” said Gardner. “Guy proved you can win here. Bob is passionate; he knows what he wants to do. I like our recruiting class and the freshmen from last year.”

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