Under Guard: Kelowna goalie’s record run
WINDSOR — Kelly Guard entered the 2004 Memorial Cup on a mission to prove himself. His name is still atop the record books 13 years later.
Guard set a new Western Hockey League standard in 2004 with the Kelowna Rockets.
He went 44-14-4 in 62 games, finishing the regular season with 13 shutouts and a 1.56 goals-against average — both records to this day.
But he didn’t have his name called for any end-of-the-year awards as Cam Ward won both the player of the year and goaltender of the year honours that season, going 31-16-8 with a 2.05 GAA, .926 save percentage and four shutouts in 56 games with the Red Deer Rebels.
So Guard did himself one better at the Memorial Cup. He led his team as hosts to the major junior national crown while setting the tournament record with a 0.75 GAA in four games. He was recognized as the top goalie and Memorial Cup most valuable player.
“I kind of played with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder because I was shafted on a couple league awards, mainly because I wasn’t an NHL guy,” said Guard.
“Winning it in front of friends and family, on a personal note the MVP no one can ever take it away from me. It was a good experience. I owe a lot of that to the teammates as well.”
The 2004 edition of the tournament gave Guard and his Rockets teammates a second chance at being national champions after qualifying in 2003 only to bow out in the semifinal against the Hull Olympiques, who returned the following season as Gatineau and lost to Guard’s Kelowna team 2-1 in the final.
Guard says the 2003 tournament taught his team what it took to win it all in 2004.
“It’s a really hard tournament to win, I think what helped us a lot was our experience before, how to handle everything, just shortterm competition which most the guys aren’t used to,” said Guard.
“Obviously going there the year before left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth.”
Guard closed out his junior career on top, despite his journey not fitting a conventional “cookie cutter” format. His pro career, however, never took off despite leaving a mark on the Canadian Hockey League record book.
Guard was cut three times by his hometown Prince Albert Raiders and played in Saskatchewan’s Jr. A league before landing a spot with Kelowna for the 200203 season as a 19-year-old.
He signed an entry-level contract ahead of the 2004 Memorial Cup with the Ottawa Senators and spent time in the ECHL and American Hockey League between 2004 and 2007.
Guard spent some time in Austria before landing in Italy for the 2008-09 season, but he says it was difficult to stay motivated as a player. “I kinda lost the fire.”
Guard returned to Prince Albert, Sask., and worked as a goalie consultant and ran camps, unsure of what was ahead of him as a retired 26-year-old goaltender.
Then the junior team that cut him three times as a teenager came calling when they needed a goalie coach in 2012. He’s been with the Raiders since then.
Guelph Storm’s Ryan Callahan gets caught in the net as Rockets goalie Kelly Guard pushes him down during the second period of a Memorial Cup game in 2004 in Kelowna, B.C. Kelowna won, 1-0.