Cal Gardner

As a youngster in Transcona, Manitoba, Cal Gardner heard Foster Hewitt's voice describing the fortunes of the Toronto Maple Leafs over the radio. He found himself sharing the dream of every Canadian boy - to play in the National Hockey League.

Gardner realized his desire in 1945-46 when he was called up from the Easter Hockey League by the New York Rangers. The big center lasted 11 seasons in the NHL, spending time with the Rangers, Toronto, Chicago and Boston in the six team era.

A self described "rugged hockey player," Gardner knew his share of on-ice combat. late in the 1947 season, he precipitated what has been described as biggest, longest brawl in hockey history. The last place Rangers were playing the league-leading Canadiens in Madison Square Gardens. Kenny Reardon of the Habs was clipped by Gardner's errant stick, resulting in a bad and bloody cut.

On his way to the infirmary, Reardon exchanged pleasantries with players and even spectators. He ended up involved in a tussle with a fan. The entire Canadiens team leapt off the bench and skated across the ice to rescue Reardon, but a pitched battle with fans and police resulted in the corridor.

Reardon vowed revenge on Gardner, signaling the beginning of a bitter feud. The dispute climaxed in November, 1949 when Gardner, by now a Toronto Maple Leaf, had his jaw shattered by Reardon. Desperately hoping to end the feud, NHL president Clarence Campbell forced Reardon while he was on the ice to post a $1,000 bond against future violence!

The feud ended on the ice when Reardon retired at the end of the season, but an intense dislike for each other was said to continue to fester for decades to come.

Playing for the Leafs was the highlight of "Pearly's" career. In over four years in Toronto he notched 163 points in 247 games, playing in two NHL all star games and winning two Stanley Cups in 1949 and 1951.

In 1952, he moved on to Chicago for only one season before finding a home in Boston until he retired in in 1957. He actually didn't retire from hockey as he became a player-coach with several of the Bruins farm teams over the next 4 seasons. In retrospect he said it was a tough job.

"That, possibly, was the wrong thing to do," said Gardner of his playing/coaching tandem job. "If you were a defenceman it wasn't too bad. If you're a forward it's pretty tough to tell a guy he made a mistake because he saw you make the same mistake on the ice. You've got to be one or the other, either a player or a coach, and you've got to be behind the bench to know what you're doing."

Gardner could have stayed on as a coach, but he wanted to end his vagabond days as his kids were starting school. Gardner moved back to Boston where he got into the transport business but also got involved in the Bruins' radio broadcasts. Later he would move to Toronto and was part of the Leafs radio shows. He would later serve as an accounts manager and promoter of a country and western radio station in Ajax, Ontario.

Gardner would still spend a lot of time at local rinks with his sons Dave and Paul. Both would enjoy lengthy careers in the National Hockey League.


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