Greg Gardner was the first player EVER signed by the then-expansion Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League on May 4, 2000; he is now aiming to become the first Head Coach of Maccabi USA’s Open Men’s Hockey team to capture the gold medal at the World Maccabiah Games.
(Greg signing his contract with Columbus)
A native of Westside, Toronto, Greg is in his third year as the Assistant Men’s Ice Hockey coach at Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania, his tenth year as an NCAA Division 1 coach. He grew up as many Canadian children do, with a hockey stick glued to his hands. He found his calling as a Goalie playing Triple AAA hockey and travelling throughout Canada competing, eventually earning a four-year scholarship to play at Niagara University in New York. He achieved great success there, leading the NCAA in goals against average during the 1999-2000 season and setting the record for the most shutouts in a season in the process.
In 1996, during the summer before his sophomore year of college, his father approached him with an idea. “A newspaper advertisement came across my dad’s desk for something called the Maccabiah Games,” recalled Greg. “I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but I drove to Montreal and made Team Canada.”
Generally the only Jewish athlete on his teams throughout his youth and college, Greg’s experience in Israel in 1997 helped shape him into who he is today. “Playing in the Maccabiah Games is an incredible memory and one I’ve carried with me forever,” exclaimed Greg. “It’s an experience that can’t properly be explained unless you are a part of it.” In an ironic twist, Greg led Maccabi Canada to the gold medal in Open Men’s Ice Hockey at the 1997 World Maccabiah Games, defeating Team USA in the finals.
(Greg in 1997 wearing a USA jersey (center)… He swapped jerseys with Team USA’s Goalie)
Despite his success on the ice, Gardner’s best memories from the Games happened off the ice. They include: Going to the Western Wall and travelling throughout the desert with his teammates, walking on the border of Lebanon through Metula, and traversing Masada. “Winning a medal is/was important,” explained Greg. “But it’s really about connecting with Israel and forming relationships with Jewish athletes on your team and from around the world.”
(Team Canada posing on a tank in Israel at the 1997 World Maccabiah Games)
As the Head Coach of the USA Open Men’s Ice Hockey team at the 2017 World Maccabiah Games, Greg’s goals are twofold. He wants to provide his team with the right environment for them to experience a lifetime of memories, and of course to win a gold medal. “The goal is to bring the team together quickly, have an experience of a lifetime prior to playing Hockey and then perform at the highest level possible during the competition,” said Greg. “I feel blessed to have this experience and opportunity to be a role model for these young men at the Maccabiah and in Israel.”
Maccabi USA is currently seeking Jewish Ice Hockey players for a Juniors Boys’ team, for those born between 1999-2002, an Open Men’s team, 18-39, and a Masters Men’s team, ages 40+. To apply, click HERE! For more information, please contact Shane Carr, Program Director, at 215.561.6900 x. 4147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.