In Search of Tony 'O'

Mike AllderContributor IMarch 4, 2009

Bill Gardner played center for the Chicago Blackhawks back in October 1982. A quick, journeyman fourth-line offensive checker, Bill would toil for the 'Hawks in the starting lineup for five seasons; he would spend another four seasons alternating between bus travel in the minors and plane travel with the Hawks.

After more stints in the minors Bill would finish his pro career with four seasons in Austria.

It was the early morning of Oct. 17, 1982. I, along with my new bride, were at Toronto International Airport waiting for our honeymoon flight to Florida. We had been married the day before and like most weddings it had been on a Saturday. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I was overjoyed to be married and looked forward to a long life with my new wife. My friend Paul, who had been one of my ushers also got up early to drive us to the airport and he decided to wait around and see us off.

The previous night we had left our reception at about nine and gone to my grandmother’s apartment to get changed before heading back to the reception, spending the last couple hours thanking and handing out stupid doily-wrapped wedding cake to our guest.

The first thing I did when I got to my grandmother's apartment was turn the television on so as to catch the last period of the Leaf and Blackhawks game. I whipped off my rented tux, those fake leather shiny shoes and that ugly bow tie, all while watching the game. We had told our guest that we would back within the hour since my grandmother's apartment was about 10 minutes away. 

We were now going to be late since we had driven over with my other usher Bruce and now his rusty old pick up truck was not going to start. It was freezing cold that night and his battery was dead. Bonus, back up to the apartment to catch the end of the game, the Leafs lost 3-2.

It was almost two hours by the time we were able to get ourselves back to the North York Veterans Hall. My hockey buddies were all convinced that I had snuck in a “quickie” with my new bride. That is why they all assumed we were so late.

“No the battery died and I watched the Leaf game.” I explained.

Back at the reception my N.W.A.A. hockey team had all changed into their hockey jerseys and we all partied the night away dancing and carousing and rock’ in to the many Stones songs that I had requested from the only non-hockey fan in the room that night our DJ, Vince.

We were all sweaty and tired. It was as if we had all been out playing our usual Saturday night game at Forest Hill Arena.

While at the airport I spotted Hawk superstar Denis Savard. I quickly figured out that the Blackhawks would be catching an early flight back home for an evening game against Detroit. I left my new bride standing alone with our luggage as Paul and me would set out to find and get an autograph from Chicago's legend goalie Tony Esposito.  

We scoured the complete departure level we could not find him anywhere. We saw many other players but not Tony. He had played goal the night before so he had to be there. But where?

I spotted Bill Gardner and walked over to inquire as to where Tony 'O' could be. Billy told us that Tony hides in one of the private lounges and just stays to himself. I guess it was one of those ‘goalie things’. It was at that moment that my wife had spotted us and carrying the two bags scurried over to where Paul, Billy and myself were standing.

I introduced her to Bill as if we were old long time friends. We explained to Bill that we had been married the day before and were on our way to Florida for our honeymoon. After congratulating us, Billy left to catch his flight.

The weeks passed and for whatever reason my wife and I were now standing inside Maple Leaf Gardens. We were not just inside the Gardens, we were standing behind the visitor’s bench and the Chicago Blackhawks were just coming onto the ice for morning practice.

I still do not remember exactly why we were right at the bench that day but we were.

I spotted number 14 Bill Gardner skating by the bench. “Billy” I hollered loudly. He turned his head and came right over immediately. He took off his glove and held out his hand to shake mine. I was bewildered he obviously had me confused with someone else. “How are ya ?” he said as I shook his hand.

“Billy I think you got me confused with someone else,” still puzzled by his friendliness. “No I remember last time we were in Toronto I met you and your new wife at the airport before you went on your honeymoon.” I was dumbfounded. “You remember? That was back in October.”

He put his glove back on. “How could I forget you? You left your beautiful wife just standing alone in the airport while you looked for Espo.” he said has he skated away, confusingly shaking his head.

It was mid-February and I had been married four months already and here, this pro hockey player with all the travelling, all the people he must meet remembers our insignificant obscure chance meeting.

Was it that strange? Was it that bizarre what I had done that October day? I mean, I had what I thought would be the rest of my life with this woman.

How many opportunities does one get to meet Tony Esposito?

Years later I was given a small wooden sign that hangs on my door to this day. It reads

“We interrupt this marriage to bring you the hockey season.”

Little did my ex-wife realize that the interruption would begin on the second day of our marriage.

Shame, I never did meet Tony Esposito.