I carry with me one piece of trivia in my chest pocket close to my heart. I pull it out from time to time and it never fails to stump hockey fans, journalists and experts, individually and collectively.
Only two players in the history of the game have won the Hart Trophy in their rookie NHL season. A few seconds of lip pursing and eyebrow furrowing later, the name Wayne Gretzky pops out of the mouth.
Right. And the other guy?
I’m still waiting for someone to answer correctly. Understandably so. Herb Gardiner is now 81 years removed from that glorious rookie season when at the age of 35 he joined the Montreal Canadiens, played 60 minutes a game, every game, and won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player.
The only reason I know that is because Herb Gardiner is my great uncle. His sister-in-law, Norma Jean Costello, was my grandmother. Uncle Herb passed away in 1972 in Philadelphia at the age of 80, so my connection with him wasn’t strong. But our family gets together every two years for an event we call the Gardiner Cup.
Gardiner Cup 2008 was held Aug. 20-24 in the Cape Cod region of Marstons Mills and Cotuit. Herb’s lovely daughter Patricia, now 83, hosted myself and other family members from Calgary, Boston and Philadelphia.
The inspiration behind the Gardiner Cup started in 2000 when my brother Mike from Calgary, my father Barry from Calgary and Herb’s grandson James Rhodes from Philadelphia were golfing at Banff Springs, not far from where Uncle Herb cut his teeth as a pro hockey player with the Calgary Wanderers and later the Tigers of the old Western Canadian Hockey League. The WCHL at the time was on par with the NHL in terms of caliber of play.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to get together like this regularly for a game of golf in his honor,” someone said.
At the next Gardiner Cup in 2002, at the famed Kiawah Island course in South Carolina, Jim unveiled a small crystal golf trophy that we now call the Gardiner Cup.
And at the suggestion of my colleague Mike Brophy, I went to the Goodwill discount store and purchased a green sports jacket (with apologies to the fine folks at the Augusta Masters) for $5. It has since been emblazoned with a Gardiner Cup crest that includes a hockey stick, golf club, puck, golf ball, U.S. and Canadian flags. In 2004, a neon green female jacket was added for the lady participants.
I’m happy to report both myself and my wife Terri won the Cup and green jackets in 2006. (Unfortunately, it was time to get the jackets dry-cleaned and the cost was triple the cost of the garments).
This year in Cape Cod, T.K. Skendarian, the great grandson of Herb Gardiner, and Rosemarie Cunningham, the better half of James Rhodes, won the coveted jackets. As hostess, Patricia Rhodes, still a golfing phenom well into her 80s, unveiled a silver Gardiner Cup mug to go along with the crystal trophy.
The golf tournament, in all seriousness, is an excuse for the family to get together, share stories, pull pranks and feast like fiends. (Herb’s granddaughter Dusty Rhodes hosted an epic lobster and clam bake for a crew of 25.)
We welcomed in the next wave of Gardiner Cup participants, including Herb’s great grandsons T.K., Tucker and Tyler. It won’t be long before the granddaughters Taylor, Turner and Tanner vie for the neon green jacket.
Uncle Herb would be very proud. It’s not exactly hockey and none of us are MVP golfers, but we shared his spirit for 60 minutes every hour, just like he did that magical season back in 1926-27.
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