Gardner stays close to the game he loves

by Adam Rogowin || AHL On The Beat Archive

The calendar says that Bill Gardner turns 47 this month, but don’t tell that to the Chicago Wolves color analyst. As long as he remains in the hockey world he feels more on par with his six-year-old son Liam.

“I may be getting old and gray but (hockey) allows me to stay a kid,” said Gardner, who is entering his fifth season on Wolves broadcasts. “I’m very fortunate to be doing what I am doing. It makes me feel so young.”

Hockey has a funny way of changing your life. Gardner knows that first-hand.

“As a kid, I thought I’d be in Toronto forever,” he said. “I didn’t even know where Chicago was. All I had heard was that gangsters ran around there. I’ve now been (in Chicago) longer than any place else. I’ve got hockey to thank for that.”

The trek to the Windy City started when the Chicago Blackhawks selected Gardner with their third pick, 49th overall, in the 1979 National Hockey League Entry Draft. After his playing days ended in 1992, he remained closely connected with the game.

Gardner quickly traded his equipment for a suit after retiring, working as a studio analyst on Blackhawks broadcasts from 1993 to 1996. He then moved up to the press box, spending six seasons as a color analyst in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers (1996-97), Carolina Hurricanes (1997-98) and Blackhawks (1998-2002).

“It’s neat to be able to do what I’m doing because I’m still pretty close to a team,” he said. “I’m not a player, but I still get to be very close to the action. Some of the guys in that locker room might be 20 years younger than me but we have that special hockey connection.”

Today, hockey remains more than just a game to him. Ironically, throwing on all the equipment and lacing up the skates is the last thing he misses.

“I don’t miss lugging that bag around and putting on all of the gear,” he said. “The thing about not actually playing that I miss the most is the camaraderie and being amongst the guys in the room. That’s hard to explain to somebody that’s never been part of a hockey team before.

“What I do today still gives me a sense of that. It’s a major reason why I truly love what I do.”

Gardner thinks he has an idea of where that special connection came from.

“I wish I knew why such camaraderie exists in the hockey world,” he said. “That’d be a great book to write if I had the formula. You get so close because you understand what each guy means to the team. When you are away from the rink, you stick together because you understand how much everyone puts into the team when you are together on the ice.”

And today the friendships continue for the nine-year NHL veteran. “(The friendships) I’ve created are incredible. We all enjoy each other’s company because there exists such a tight bond. It’s an unbreakable thing.”

When he’s not working, Gardner is always willing and ready to talk about the sport that has shaped his life. All are welcome, friends and strangers alike, for a conversation on hockey.

“If somebody wants to sit and talk (hockey) I love it,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to do what I do and to have done what I’ve done. The entire aura of being in the sport has taught me to be humble and always have respect. If somebody has a question or wants an autograph, it takes no time at all to do it.”

In short, it’s just another day for somebody who leads a life in and around hockey.

“I’m sure there are other great sports out there, but hockey has been it for me,” he said. “Everything involved in it from the actual game to the people. It’s been my life, and I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

As long as Gardner stays in the game, Liam will have somebody to never grow up with.