Chuck Gardiner was one of the game's preeminent goaltenders during the 1920s and 1930s. He attained NHL stardom with the Chicago Black Hawks, where he guarded the cage from 1927 to 1934. Prior to his untimely death in June 1934, Gardiner led the Black Hawks to their first Stanley Cup and recorded 42 shutouts and a goals-against average of 2.02 over only seven years of NHL service.
Gardiner was one of the few European-born players to make it to the NHL during his era. The native of Edinburgh, Scotland, Chuck emigrated to Canada with his family when he was seven years old. They made their new home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, one the country's major hotbeds of hockey.
Gardiner cracked the lineup of the Selkirk Fishermen senior hockey club in the fall of 1924. His play was inspirational and he recorded two shutouts to go with a sparkling 1.83 goals-against mark. Gardiner moved up to the Winnipeg Maroons the next year and became a workhorse, appearing in 74 regular-season games and eight playoff matches over two years. Once again he'd met the challenge successfully, posting six shutouts each year and goals-against averages of 2.16 and 2.14. Most significantly, he demonstrated that he was a bona fide NHL prospect who didn't wilt over the course of a long season.
The Chicago Black Hawks had kept a close eye on Gardiner's development and decided to give him a chance to play in the big league during their sophomore NHL season in 1927-28. On joining the Hawks, he was initially slotted to be the understudy to incumbent Hugh Lehman, but Gardiner quickly won the confidence of coach Barney Stanley and played the bulk of the games. A major influence on Gardiner at this time was former scoring star Duke Keats, who helped him learn to outguess opposing forwards. As a result, he became one of the toughest netminders to face one-on-one.
Lehman ended up retiring and taking over the coaching duties when Stanley retired in mid-season. Gardiner's rookie term was a personal success as he registered three shutouts and a respectable 2.85 goals-against average on a team that was overwhelmed most evenings. He transcended the Black Hawks' woeful showing in 1928-29 by establishing himself as one of the NHL's outstanding netminders with five shutouts and a solid 1.85 goals-against record.
Gardiner's hands and feet were lightning quick, as was his mind. Rarely was he caught unaware on the ice by an opposing shooter. He was also a fierce competitor who periodically left his net to thwart an attack or dove into a pile of players to seize the puck.
Beginning in 1929-30, Gardiner would play a key role in Chicago's vast improvement. In 1930-31, he recorded a league-high 12 shutouts and a stellar goals-against mark of 1.73. He also earned his first of three selections to the NHL First All-Star Team. The following year his netminding heroics brought him the Vezina Trophy. Gardiner's exceptional play was augmented by his ability to direct his teammates on the ice, a factor that led to his being chosen to serve as team captain in 1933-34.
That 1933-34 season was both triumphant and tragic for Chuck Gardiner. During the regular season, he led the NHL with 10 shutouts en route to his second Vezina Trophy. In the playoffs, his goal keeping was the backbone of Chicago's first-ever Stanley Cup championship, over the Red Wings. For the third time in his career Gardiner topped all playoff goalies in shutouts. A gifted and durable performer, Gardiner led all NHL goalkeepers by playing every minute in six consecutive seasons from 1928-29 to 1933-34.
Unfortunately, Gardiner passed away on June 13, 1934, as a result of a brain hemorrhage. His death, just a few weeks after winning the Stanley Cup, was one of the most poignant stories of the NHL's early days. The Wee Scot was considered by his peers to be among the elite netminders of his time. Many in fact referred to him as the finest ever at his craft. A member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, Gardiner was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a charter member in 1945.