Un­der Guard: Kelowna goalie’s record run

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS -

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.

JAC­QUES BOISSINOT, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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