NHL Draft prospect Daimon Gardner's return to Warroad a big boost for Warriors
Gardner tallied four points in a win over East Grand Forks on Thursday in a rematch of the last three Section 8A boys championships.
Daimon Gardner was last in Warroad when he was a seventh grader.
This summer, he began toying with the idea of returning to the place where he watched his older sisters, Kayla, Mariah and Demi, lead the Warriors to state tournaments. Kayla won a title.
Gardner thought about taking a shot at it for his senior year, while earning plenty of ice time and going to school in person instead of online.
"I wanted more ice time and kind of more exposure like that," Gardner said. "I wanted to win a state championship. My sisters all played here. They all played in state tournaments. So, I was really looking forward to coming back and I'm excited to be here."
Gardner, who moved to Winnipeg in eighth grade and played last season and the start of this one with the Omaha Lancers, returned to Warroad in late October.
And it's clear things have changed a bit since he was in seventh grade.
Now, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound power forward who is committed to play college hockey at Clarkson, Gardner has instantly been a big-time difference-maker for the Warriors.
On Thursday night in East Grand Forks, Gardner scored two goals and set up two more as the Warriors beat the Green Wave 6-3 in a rematch of the last three Section 8A boys championships.
"He moves so well for being a big guy," Warroad coach Jay Hardwick said. "He's tough to handle. When he comes down at full speed, it's pretty scary. I think when he gets going, he's tough to stop."
Gardner, who is eligible for the NHL Draft this summer, has been the perfect complement for undersized but highly skilled linemate Jayson Shaugabay, a Minnesota Duluth commit.
That duo has combined for 30 points in six games for the 6-0 Warriors.
Gardner has nine goals and 16 points. Shaugabay has five goals and 14 points.
"He creates some space for Jayson," Hardwick said of Gardner. "It took a little while, but they're starting to mesh a little bit, find each other and make some nice hockey plays. Hopefully, as the season goes along, they'll continue to find that chemistry and keep going."
Hardwick said those two can play in all situations.
"You want your best players on the ice as much as you can," he said. "We're going to play them as much as they can handle."
On Thursday, they were too much for the Green Wave, who received a goal and two assists from UND commit Jaksen Panzer.
The Warriors blew the game open in the second period, turning a 1-1 tie into a 4-2 lead. Warroad outshot the Green Wave 15-4 in that frame.
"I thought their top line, their top two players, were the difference," East Grand Forks Senior High coach Tyler Palmiscno said. "I think their top line had five of the six, I believe. That's the difference in the game. The second period took a lot of wind out of our sails because we had to play defense for the whole period and we couldn't make hard enough plays to get it out of our end."
The Green Wave and Warriors will meet one more time in the regular season on Feb. 8 in Warroad. The playoffs will begin just over a week after that meeting.
But Gardner is in no rush to get there. He's enjoying his time back in Warroad.
"It's great seeing a lot of old faces," Gardner said. "I love doing in-school a lot better than online, so that's huge. Being with buddies and being able to finish Grade 12, senior year, in school is so much fun."