Gardiner doesn’t let weather block road back to AHL

Photo: Lindsay Mogle

by Joe Roberts | AHL On The Beat

Reid Gardiner was thrilled when he got the call-up to the American Hockey League last week.

Mother Nature didn’t care if he was thrilled or not. She had her own plans.

Gardiner had been thriving with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings, and it was his turn to prove himself with the Utica Comets.

“(Kalamazoo head coach) Nick Bootland called me Monday night, later in the evening,” Gardiner said. “He told me there will probably be a flight tomorrow morning.

“Then (Utica Comets director of hockey operations) Pat Conacher called me later on and said we had a flight at 10:30 out of Kalamazoo on Tuesday morning. The airport is nice and small, you get out nice and quick.”

Everything was going to plan for Gardiner, an ECHL All-Star whose 53 points were fifth-most in the league at the time of his recall.

However, Southwest Michigan is having one of its most brutal winters in memory, and Gardiner’s flight was a victim of an overnight ice storm.

“I got my gear, checked my phone and … my flight was canceled. Pat told me to go home and wait until I get a call,” Gardiner said. “It was all day, until like 8:30 at night, when he said there was a flight at 5:20 in the morning out of Kalamazoo.

“I woke up at 3 a.m., checked my phone … canceled.”

It was Gardiner’s second canceled flight over the course of eight hours, but he was not going to let that deter him from making his way to Utica.

“The travel coordinator from Vancouver asked if I could get to Detroit somehow for a 10:30 flight,” Gardiner recalled. “There were no Ubers. I called cab companies, I called car service companies. I probably made six or seven phone calls but nobody was going on the road because it was a blizzard.”

On less than a handful hours of sleep, Gardiner decided to continue to do whatever it took to get to the airport.

“So I hopped in my car at five in the morning,” he said. “I was trying to follow the lights in front of me. I just wanted to stay on the road. It might not have been the safest option but the visibility was OK.

“I just wanted to get there already. It’s what I grew up with in Saskatchewan. That’s the winters and driving to hockey practice and games.”

Gardiner made it safely and, after one more hour-long delay, he was in the air and on his way to the AHL once again. The day-and-a-half process of getting out to Utica was finally done.

“I finally landed at the airport in Syracuse at about 2:30 on Wednesday, the day of the Laval game (Feb. 13),” he added. “Maybe it’s my willingness to do whatever I need to do. But I didn’t even think twice about it. I just went after it.”

Gardiner has appeared in 39 games in the AHL over the past three seasons. While living on the league-to-league yo-yo, he has spent a lot of time living in hotels. But living in the hotel doesn’t faze Gardiner too much, especially because he has quickly become friends with the fellow Comets who are staying there as well.

“There’s guys at the hotel who I go to supper and other meals with. We walk to the rink together. The hotel is nice. They treat us really well here with the Comets.”

There is one challenge, though.

“Don’t tell my mom, but I don’t do a lot of laundry when I’m up here,” he said, laughing.