Following a successful university career, Marlon Gardner is now hoping to become a professional hockey player.
Gardner, who is from the Eagle Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario, has spent the past four seasons toiling with the Neumann University Knights.
The NCAA Division III squad is based out of Aston, Pennsylvania.
Gardner, a centre, led the Knights in scoring this past season, averaging just more than a point per game. He collected 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 24 games for Neumann, which competes in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) West.
The Knights posted an over-all record of 15-8-3 this season. They were the runners-up in the ECAC West.
After Neumann’s season came to an end in early March, Knights’ coach Dominick Dawes said some officials from minor professional clubs had inquired whether Gardner could join their team for the remainder of their campaign.
But Gardner, who was majoring in Education at the Pennsylvania University, opted to stay put to finish off his schooling.
“He didn’t have the ability to pick up and leave for two weeks and go play somewhere else,” Dawes said.
But now that he has completed his studies, Gardner is hoping to launch his pro career, starting with the 2012-13 season.
Dawes is uncertain where Gardner, who is 25, will end up playing this coming season.
“It’s a little bit early in the process,” he said.
Dawes said a handful of other former Knights’ players in recent years have gone on to play pro hockey.
And he’s confident Gardner, who was an assistant captain with the Knights this past season, can make the jump to a minor pro franchise.
“He’s an extremely talented player offensively,” Dawes said. “And he can shoot the puck with anybody out there.”
Dawes does not feel the fact Gardner played Division III hockey, instead of toiling at the higher profile Division I level, will be a hindrance.
“We’re more like a low level Division I team,” Dawes said of the Knights, who split the two exhibition contests this past season that they played against Division I squads.
Dawes believes Gardner’s best chance to start his pro career will be with a club in the Central Hockey League (CHL), which includes 12 franchises, all in the United States.
In terms of the hockey ladder, the CHL is arguably the third best minor pro circuit in North America, behind the American Hockey League, which is a step down from the National Hockey League, and the East Coast Hockey League.
“He might get a chance somewhere else but I think the Central Hockey League is league-wise the best chance for him for the type of player he is,” Dawes said of Gardner.
As for Gardner’s most memorable moment with the Knights, that occurred during his rookie season. That’s because Neumann captured its national title in 2009.
Though it was his freshman season, Gardner was a valuable member of that squad. He finished fourth in team scoring, collecting 32 points, including 16 goals, in 30 contests.
Prior to joining the Knights, Neumann suited up for a pair of junior squads in two different leagues over a four-season span.
He began his junior career during the 2003-04 season with the Southeast Blades, a franchise which competed in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. He ended up playing about two and a half seasons with the Blades.
Following a couple of relocations, that organization is now called the Steinbach Pistons.
Gardner also played portions of two seasons with the Dryden Ice Dogs, who participate in the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
Meanwhile, for the past three seasons the Knights’ roster has also featured another Aboriginal player, defenceman Harley Garrioch, who is Cree.
Like Gardner, Garrioch, who is from Manitoba’s Cross Lake First Nation, was an assistant captain with the Neumann squad this season.
Garrioch, a 6-foot-3, 216-pounder, is a player best known for taking care of business in his end of the rink. He appeared in 25 games with the Knights this season and had three points, including one goal.
After one more season of university hockey under his belt, Dawes believes that Garrioch will also be looking to turn pro after that.
Another thing that Garrioch, 22, also has in common with Gardner is that he played in two junior leagues before coming to Neumann.
Garrioch split his four-season junior career between the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Waywayseecappo Wolverines and the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Flin Flon Bombers.