Bringing enthusiastic leadership and a solid skill set on offense, Courtney Gardiner served as a cornerstone for the York Lions since her arrival in 2017. Hailing from the town of Goderich, located on the eastern shore of Lake Huron, Gardiner earned Team MVP honors in her final season, accentuating her standing as an impact player.
In addition, recognition with the Sport Council Award validated an admirable body of work, dedicated towards improving campus life for student-athletes. Having served on the Council since her sophomore year, the 21-22 academic year resulted in a well-earned role on the Executive committee of the York Lions Sports Council, with a focus on Community Outreach.
With 12 points placing her 12th in the OUA scoring race, Gardiner’s finest performance of 2021-22 involved three assists in a pulse pounding 4-3 overtime win versus the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks. Fittingly, Gardiner assisted on the game-winning tally, scored by Kelsey McHolm, as the co-captains collaborated on a highly inspiring victory.
Two seasons prior, inspiration also served as a key theme for Gardiner. Gaining acclaim as one of the elite competitors in OUA play, a magical postseason run in 2020 saw her shine as the heartbeat of the offense. With the Lions appearing in the McCaw Cup Finals, Gardiner scored in four straight playoff games. Finishing as the team’s leading scorer during their greatest run OUA Playoffs in program history, highlighted by three points in a semifinals win versus the Nipissing Lakers, followed by a goal in the Finals, the achievement stands as one of her proudest in the Lions jersey.
Battling through an injury, the display of character proved to be admirable, affirming her place as one of the most valiant to skate for the Lions. Fittingly, Gardiner earned the honor of York Lions Athlete of the Week on March 7, 2020, a crowning touch to a career defining stretch of on-ice brilliance.
“As far as personal achievements in my hockey career, I would say yes (it was one of my greatest). I was also returning from a pretty substantial injury that I sustained about halfway through the season. Therefore, to come back from that and have such a large impact during our playoff run in 2019-2020 was quite rewarding from a personal level.”
Qualifying for the 2020 U Sports Nationals, an historic first for the women’s ice hockey program, a tinge of sadness was attributed to pandemic fears. With Charlottetown, PEI as host city, the Lions were scheduled to face off versus the McGill Martlets in preliminary round play, adding a new dimension to the long standing Montreal vs. Toronto hockey rivalry.
Akin to the 2020 NCAA hockey tournament, U Sports would not crown a national champion, cancelling the event. While an opportunity to make history did not materialize for the Lions, not even able to participate in one game, representing heartbreak, Gardiner employs a remarkable maturity. With 2020 representing the first playoff appearance of her Lions career, the excitement of playing for the McCaw Cup, and the travel to Charlottetown for Nationals, provided positive experiences that remain a significant point of pride,
“Overall, in terms of achievements while at York, I think qualifying for Nationals as a team that year was something that I would consider my greatest achievement. After not even making playoffs my first two years with the team, going on a run in playoffs, winning silver at the McCaw Cup and getting a shot to go to Nationals was a pretty amazing feeling.
Even though COVID caused the tournament to be cancelled, it was still an honour to be in PEI representing our school at the national level.”
Belonging to a group of eight skaters calling the 2021-22 campaign their last as Lions, Gardiner’s final goals in York colors represented a season highlight. Taking place in a 5-2 road win versus the Ryerson Rams, coincidentally, she scored the first and final goals of the game.
With the eventuality of Senior Night, another meaningful moment, provided Gardiner with an appreciation of her seasons spent. From the friendships forged to the memorable moments on the ice, the shared journey skating in York colours provides an eternal bond, commemorating a formative time.
Discussing the establishment of a tradition, whereby the locker room became a celebratory place, adorned with decorations meant to honour the graduating seniors, it was one Gardiner happily participated in. Upon the realization that Gardiner was among the celebrated players, the motif of tribute in the locker room geared towards her recognition, the absorption proved visceral.
“I would be lying if I said senior night was not emotional. We started a ritual a couple years back on senior night where we decorated the room for the grads. The entire day felt weird, knowing that I would walk into the room and all the decorations would be for our graduating class this time.
The returning players made the night so special and one that I will remember forever. The night came with tears, laughs, and just a lot of reminiscing about our time spent at York.
One benefit regarding Senior Night encompassed a love of the game not poised to wither. Pondering the possibility of a professional career, Gardiner already gained an exciting opportunity. Signing a tryout contract in January 2022 with the Toronto Six, the only Canadian-based franchise in the PHF.
Coincidentally, said franchise also calls Canlan Sports Ice Arena their home venue. Undeniably, the experience instilled the belief that the next chapter holds tremendous potential.
“It all seems like a blur looking back now but senior night made me appreciate and realize how much the game of hockey has done for me. Other than lifelong friends and memories to last a lifetime, grad night also solidified that fact that my hockey career could not stop after this year.
Playing professionally has always crossed my mind. AAfter experiencing the emotions on grad night, I realized there was no way I could be done playing hockey at such a high level. I cannot really imagine my life without hockey in it and grad night really made me realize this.”
Reflecting on what made the experience of skating for the York Lions so enjoyable, praise for the team culture and the sense of a second family immediately come to mind for Gardiner. Employing an approach based on the use of the word Whanau, spoken by the Maori, its origins in Eastern Polynesia, it served as the foundation for the Lions roster.
“The thing I enjoyed most about playing for York was definitely the people surrounding me. I think our team always strives to be a tight knit group and to treat each other like family.
Our team lives by the term ‘Whanau’, which means family and extended family. Living by this day in and day out has been what has not only made playing for York so enjoyable but also has allowed for success we have seen as a group.
Knowing that anyone in the dressing room has your back and would do anything for
you creates an atmosphere that has allowed for growth as an individual and as a group. As a graduating player, I can honestly say that being at York has been the best five years of my life.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”