Hockey is such a great sport and its history is second only to baseball. Where most baseball enthusiasts know all about the great ones, hockey is not as quick to celebrate its pre-World War II history. One of the best players to ever play goalie in NHL history was Charlie Gardiner. Since he only played in seven seasons between 1927 – 1934 his name is not synonymous with the great goaltenders of the game. He was however one of the greatest.
Charlie began his professional hockey career with perhaps one of the worst teams in NHL history the 1927-28 Chicago Blackhawks. At just 23 years old he was handed the starting goalie job and for a team who put up only 68 goals in 44 games, he went 6-32-2 where 3 of his wins were from shutouts. His next season was an even worse experience the 1928-29 Blackhawks team was known as “The Goaless Wonders” as they only put up 33 goals in 44 games. Gardiner went 7-29-8 with a 1.85 GAA. As he left the ice during the last game of the season he was booed and nearly retired from hockey.
Following that season, perhaps because of Chicago’s paltry goals per game average, the NHL changed it’s rules to allow forward passing into the offensive zone. This proved to be just what was needed in Chicago as Charlie went 21-18-5 with a 2.42 GAA. In the 1930-31 season Charlie had his best statistical year going 24-17-3 with a 1.73 GAA and a league leading 12 shutouts. He was also named to his first All Star Team. In 1931-32 he won his first Vezina Trophy after posting a 18-19-11 with a 1.85 GAA and taking his team to the finals for a second straight year.
The 1932-33 season was forgettable, as the Blackhawks finished 4th in their conference and missed the playoffs. Charlie went 16-20-12 with a 2.01 GAA. However in the 1933-34 season he was named captain by his teammates. Then he went out and played brilliantly posting a 20-17-11 record with a 1.63 GAA. He guided his Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship, won the Vezina Trophy for a second time and because he won a pre-season bet he was carted around Chicago’s business district in a wheel barrel during the Cup parade. It was the first Stanley Cup victory in franchise history.
Unfortunately what many people didn’t know during that season was that he was suffering from a tonsillar infection during the entire season. Often he was seen slumped over the goal crossbar during breaks. During the offseason in 1934 he collapsed and slipped into a coma. He never regained conciousness and passed away on June 13th, 1934. His career 2.02 GAA is good for 3rd all-time in hockey history. This is impressive since Brodeur is 8th, Hasek is 7th and Roy is 30 on this list. He was a charter member of the Hall of Fame inducted during the first year of its existence.
As far as Charlie’s cards go, there aren’t many of his original cards still out there on the secondary market. The only one I was able to find (pictured below) is from 1933-34 V252 series. It’s currently at $22 on eBay if you want to get it. In The Game (ITG) has done several cards of Charlie and he does have some memorabilia cards out there from the Ultimate set. Overall I think he is an interesting subject to write about because of how he was cut down in his prime. Perhaps if he played an entire career, he would be regarded as one of the greatest goaltenders of all-time. This is something we will never know, but we can pay homage to him by learning about his story