Paul Gardner's last hurrah will be long remembered in Binghamton, little noted elsewhere.
Although missing one-fifth of the 80-game schedule, Gardner set an American Hockey League scoring record of 130 points for the regular season that ended last night.
The AHL is not the National Hockey League, however, a fact brought home to Gardner Friday night when he was honored for his feat. The new owners of the Binghamton Whalers tendered him two free dinners, with complimentary limousine service to the restaurant.
At the same ceremony, telegrams were read from Ross Yates, the ex-Whaler who set the previous AHL record of 125 two years ago; from Emile Francis, president of the Hartford Whalers, and from David Poile, general manager of the Capitals.
The crowd of 3,720 at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena cheered for Yates and Poile while hooting Francis, who has recalled so many local favorites for duty in Hartford.
Were Gardner more demonstrative, he might have reversed the greeting. For Gardner expected a better chance in Washington this season, not the four weeks of sparse playing time that was allocated him in November.
"I'm happy with the record and it's been a pretty satisfying time here, playing with good teammates," Gardner said. "But it's not where I wanted to be.
"David and I discussed that a week ago and he knows I'm disappointed. I'm up in years (29) and I thought I'd have one more season in the NHL, but it didn't happen. They have their reasons, and I respect their opinion, but it doesn't ease the disappointment."
Both Poile and Coach Bryan Murray tied Gardner's inability to stick in Washington with a lack of speed.
"Considering the division we're in, we feel we need more speed at that position (center)," Poile said. "It's a problem that has beleaguered him. But maybe he can help us yet, if injuries should dictate that he be called up. I've learned never to say never."
"We knew he'd be a goal scorer at the American League level," Murray said. "He gives the young people a guy to rally around and he gives us a depth guy. If we didn't have a better power play, we'd more than likely call upon him.
"In the National League today, he's a specialist in the power-play department. The speed of the game, the quickness and strength of individuals around the net are very different. Rather than carry a specialist, we've gone with four regular lines, and his lack of speed makes it tough for him in other situations."
Gardner, naturally, does not agree with that assessment.
"I don't know if speed is everything," he said. "I know where I'm going and I may not be the quickest, but I get there. I proved I could play in other years in the NHL."
Gardner got 201 goals and 201 assists in nine NHL seasons. Parts of five of those seasons were spent in the AHL, where he scored 113 goals and had 159 assists in slightly more than one-third as many games.
Barring an injury-spurred return to Washington with dazzling results, the Gardner saga will end with the AHL playoffs. He plans to take his telegrams and his most valuable player plaque and his seasonal three-star award to Pittsburgh and find another line of work.
"I'm going to retire," Gardner said. "I've had enough. I'm tired of being disappointed. I thought this year I'd get a chance and I didn't, and it's not fair to me and my family to go through that again.
"I'm not down here to develop. I'm not going to get any quicker down here."
Among those who will miss Gardner is Larry Pleau, the general manager and coach who, with Gardner's help, guided the Whalers to the best record in the AHL.
"Paul showed good leadership with the younger players, good leadership with everybody," Pleau said. "He's a positive guy. He gave us veteran leadership in the room and on the ice, and as a coach I can't ask for any more than that."