ZURICH, Switzerland --
"For a Canadian kid, it's every kid's dream to play in the NHL. If you can't do that, I guess it is second best to play an NHL team. It's a big opportunity to see where you are at."
-- Ryan Gardner of ZSC Zurich
Tuesday night's Victoria Cup victory by European champion ZSC Zurich was extra sweet for Canadian Ryan Gardner.
While all of the Lions celebrated an improbably 2-1 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks
at the Hallenstadion, Gardner' had a special take on the historic win..
"You never think you can beat a NHL team," said Gardner, whose father, uncle and grandfather all played in the NHL. "We knew we had a chance to win, though. We just played our hearts out and skated our (butts) off and put them under pressure. They are human beings too and they can have off nights.
"I'm very excited to be a part of this."
For most of his life, Gardner thought he would be in the NHL. He has the size for sure, clocking in at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds. More importantly, he also has the bloodlines.
His father, Dave, played in the NHL for eight years. His uncle, Paul, had a pretty good NHL career before becoming the right-hand man to head coach Barry Trotz
in Nashville. Ryan's grandfather, Cal, won a pair of Stanley Cups with Toronto in the early '50s.
As a result, the NHL had to seem like a birthright to Ryan Gardner growing up. But it never happened.
That struck home Tuesday night as he wore the championship medal around his neck and basked in the glory of one of his biggest highlights of his hockey career.
"All credit to these guys," Gardner said, pointing to the Blackhawks' dressing room, "I wish I was in their position.
Ryan Gardner was a very good youth player, but he hit a growth spurt as he arrived in the Ontario Hockey League. His new-found height sure turned heads, but his skating could not catch up to his height and his game began to suffer.
He scored just 11 goals and 18 assists in two-plus years of OHL competition before heading to Switzerland.
"I left when I was 19 because things weren't going well," Gardner said. "I should have probably gone to university. But, I got the opportunity to play over here and been here ever since."
Ryan was able to go to Switzerland because his dad spent the last five years of his career playing in the country, mostly for HC Ambri-Piotta -- which first welcomed him. He signed on a license, which is something like a visa and allowed him to qualify as a Swiss player on the roster and put him on the road toward Swiss citizenship.
A dozen years later, Gardner gained his new passport.
"They don't just hand those things out," he said with a smile.
The first thing he did with his newfound citizenship was represent Switzerland in the 2009 World Championships, playing half the tournament. Now he has set his sights on representing his new country in the Olympics.
"The big goal this year is to play in the Olympics in Canada," he told NHL.com. "It would probably be the biggest thing in my lifetime."
On Tuesday night, though, he wanted to have a few minutes to absorb what he and his teammates accomplished Tuesday night.
Not only does the hope for the Olympics still burn bright, but Gardner says he has not given up hope of making his way to the NHL.
"You always keep the hope alive," Gardner said earlier this week. "Maybe in the Olympics or the World Championships, you can do something special and maybe somebody will give you a shot. I've played with some guys here -- (Petteri) Nummelin and (Ville) Peltonen -- that were 30 and went back and played in the NHL. So, (the dream is) still there."
Gardner had 53 points in 50 Swiss League games last year, suggesting that he might have the skill set to find employment in the NHL.
The NHL might be the long-term goal, but the goal for Tuesday night was to win the Victoria Cup. In the inaugural game last year, the New York Rangers
needed a last-minute goal by Ryan Callahan
to squeak out a 4-3 win against Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Zurich beat Metallurg last spring for the Champions League crown, so the Swiss side believes it can play with anyone in Europe. The fact that HC Davos, the reigning Swiss champions, were decimated by Chicago 9-2,on Monday night, didn't hurt the confidence of the Lions one bit.
"Nobody expected us to beat anybody in the Champions League, especially the Russians, but we got through that," he said. "I think there is a little bit of an air that there is a possibility."
In the end, though, Gardner knows he has lived a dream by playing, and beating, a NHL team. So if his dream of playing in the NHL never comes to pass? It seems Switzerland suits him just fine, thank you.
"This is not a bad second place to be a hockey player," he said with a smile.