By Rob Tillotson,
After being skipped over by all takers in the NHL Entry Draft, Kelly Guard knew that he was going to have to make the most of whatever opportunities he got. The 22-year old took the first step on May 11, 2004 when he signed a multi-year deal with the Ottawa Senators, and now with Billy Thompson currently serving the back-up role in the Canadian capital, Guard has a chance to capitalize on the opportunity of becoming the No. 1 man between the pipes for the Binghamton Senators.
The Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native broke into the pro ranks last season, with the Charlotte Checkers of the East Coast Hockey League, after a stellar junior career as a member of the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets. His final season in Kelowna, the quiet-mannered Guard led his club to the 2004 Memorial Cup title and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. He also garnered the tournament’s Top Goaltender honors.
As a rookie in Charlotte, Guard appeared in 26 games, posting a record of 12-11-2 to go along with his 3.06 goals against average and a save percentage of .901. While Guard’s first professional season was not truly a disappointment, for a goaltender that set a handful of WHL and CHL records during his junior career, it is hard to say that he lived up to expectations.
“Last year in the East Coast, he came to training camp too heavy and we basically told him that if you want to be a goaltender and play at any higher level than junior, he was going to have to lose some weight” stated Ottawa goaltending coach Ron Low.
Guard heard the advice of his new employers and made sure to show up in more impressive shape for this past September’s camp. Low and his colleagues certainly took notice of the new and improved goaltender.
“The thing that we really like about him is that he committed himself to losing the weight. He took off like 25 pounds, has kept it off and has become a much quicker goaltender because of it” added Low.
Though his numbers are not staggering this season, Guard has certainly showed signs of being a very solid goaltender in the making. In his 34 appearances with the B-Sens this season, the second-year pro has put up a record of 15-14-1 as well as a 3.18 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. The 6-foot, 190-pounder has also posted the first three shutouts of his professional career while donning a Binghamton sweater.
“So far he’s had a good season and if you look at him every practice, he works really hard” said Binghamton captain Denis Hamel.
“He’s got a great attitude and he’s learning every day” added the veteran forward.
Talk to Kelly Guard after a Senators practice session and you’ll see a reserved, mild-mannered kid who knows that there is more work to do if he wants to take the next step in his career.
“The biggest adjustment, so far, has been the pace and flow of the game.” remarked Guard on Monday morning. “The guys here are a lot quicker. They’re a lot more precise with their shots and a lot more patient. So, you just have to learn from that and go about it your own way” he added.
While Guard knows that his on-ice performance ultimately comes down to him, he is not naïve to think that it can be done solo.
“Billy’s (Thompson) helped out a lot and Ron Low, our goalie coach, has been down here a lot. He’s helped out with little things that most people probably wouldn’t even notice.”
“You know, the two goalies really have to help each other out a lot” Guard said about the adjustment to the AHL level.
It is no secret that this season has been a disappointment for the Senators and their fans alike, but you should also take note of some of the positives coming out of this year. Certainly Kelly Guard has got to be on that list. If he continues to improve at this rate, expect to see Guard around the professional hockey world for quite some time to come.
“He’s done lots of work on a lot of things. His glove has improved immensely. His play on short rebounds, the stuff that lies around the crease, he’s become much better at that” remarked Low.
“Everything about your game, when you’re at the American League level, needs to improve to get to the next level, but its those certain little spots that he needs to work more on,” he added.
That being said, the Senators organization has faith that Guard can definitely become a fixture in net at some point in his career. Hopefully he can continue to progress and help out the club here in Binghamton on his way through.
“He’s going to be a kid that put himself into position to play” Low concluded.