Bruce Gardiner was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the sixth round of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft 131st overall. He came up through the Barrie Minor Hockey Association and played two years with the Barrie Colts when the franchise played at the Junior B level.
In 1990-91 Gardiner enrolled at Colgate University where he improved on his offensive numbers in each of his four years in the NCAA. As a senior in 1994 he was named to the ECAC Second All-Star Team.
Gardiner played his first professional game in the IHL with the Peoria Rivermen in 1993-94. By this time the St. Louis Blues had relinquished the rights to Gardiner and he signed a free-agent pact with the Ottawa Senators. He played two seasons in Prince Edward Island with the Senators farm team in the AHL.
In 1996-97 Gardiner got his first crack at the NHL, appearing in 67 games for Ottawa. He responded with eleven goals and 21 points while playing in a defensive checking role for the team. He played another two-and-a-half years in the Canadian capital before being traded to Tampa Bay in November, 1999. He played in 41 games with the Lightning but was then selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2000 Expansion Draft. He played 73 games with the Blue Jackets in their first season but spent most of the 2001-02 campaign in the minors with the AHL's Albany River Rats after being obtained by the New Jersey Devils. Gardiner was called up for seven games, throughout the course of the season, scoring two goals and an assist.