Before I Made It: Jake Gardiner

The Hockey News
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With Kevin Kennedy
I played my first hockey at the Hopkins Pavilion in my hometown of Hopkins, Minnesota. The game I remember wasn’t our first game, but I know we were in Myte and it was a game between the two rep teams from our town and they did a light show for all of us and played the “Final Countdown” when we came on the ice. They introduced all of us over the loud speaker and everything. That was the coolest.

There was also this one tournament we’d go to all the time in Fargo, North Dakota and that was always really fun. We’d bus there and all the kids would be in the back and the parents would be in the front. I remember messing around and playing mini sticks in the hotel. It’s an awesome memory.

My dad was the one who got me into hockey. He played up through high school and we always had a rink in our back yard – actually it was on a lake behind our house and he maintained it for us about 10 years.

Hockey and golf were my main two sports, but I also played baseball, soccer and a little bit of football. As a teenager, I worked at the local rink at summer camps and it was a really fun job. I was an instructor and ran the clinics so it was pretty much just playing hockey all day.

Not many guys I grew up playing with made it to the NHL besides Derek Stepan who I used to play with at summer hockey. We were on the same line actually, I was a forward back then. I became a defenseman when I was a senior in high school and a college coach recommended to my high school coach that I try defense and I never looked back.

The junior route wasn’t really an option. I knew I was going to college right from the get-go, I just didn’t know where. The junior route just wasn’t an option. I ended up at Wisconsin since they had a good hockey program and I studied Consumer Affairs. I haven’t finished yet, but I plan to get that done over the next few summers.

I signed with the Leafs after my junior year and played 10 games for the Marlies in the AHL before I got my first taste of the big leagues. At training camp the next season, they just didn’t say anything to me so I just figured I was on the team and on opening day, the coach finally came and told me I was in. That was it, and here I am.