Every year on Jake Gardiner
’s birthday the nice people of Deephaven, Minnesota convene a parade that runs down his street.
Even that fanfare falls short when compared to the fireworks that light the sky at dusk.
“I get fireworks every year,” he said, via cell from Omaha, Nebraska where his Wisconsin Badgers stopped over en route to the University of North Dakota.
That’s because Gardiner was born on July 4th, 1990. Obtained by the Maple Leafs in the deal that sent Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim, Gardiner is a defenceman whose game is built on fireworks. Scouts laud his superior skating and ability to make the first pass out of his zone.
Gardiner has one more year of eligibility left at Wisconsin, the alma mater of former Leafs standout Curtis Joseph.
His plans, for now, are indeterminate. Were he to forego his final year, Gardiner could sign with the Leafs and begin an apprenticeship that should last at least a year. While his speed is NHL ready, the six-foot-two left shooting blueliner is probably too slender to play at 193 pounds.
“I am not really sure what my future holds in the short term,” he said. “Hopefully when it’s time it will only take me a year or two to make the jump.”
Drafted 17th overall in 2008, Gardiner has seven goals and 23 assists in 30 games with Wisconsin. He is plus 20 with 22 minutes in penalties. Gardiner was a key member of the 2010 World Junior team that upset Canada.
While he has visited Toronto four or five times as a minor hockey player, Gardiner said he wasn’t intimately familiar with the Leafs.
“I’ve been on the internet researching over the last couple of days,” he said.
Gardiner’s strong play in his own end has been credited to his background. He played forward until his senior year of high school in Deephaven.
“It helps to have played both ends,” he said. “You have a better sense of what the forwards are trying to do.”
Jill Gardiner is a housewife while Gardiner’s father John operates his own printing business and coached his son into peewee.
He did not, as coach/dad sometimes do, force his son to walk home.
“There were a few times he didn’t talk to me,” Jake Gardiner
said. “That’s the worst it ever got.”Jake Gardiner
won’t get fireworks on his birthday when he reaches Toronto, even from the most ardent Leaf fans. He will, however get something better.
They’ve already named an expressway after him.