Guard makes strong AHL debut

By Colleen Greene

Signed as a free agent by the Ottawa Senators in May 2004, goaltender Kelly Guard is being introduced to the AHL in a bigger way than anticipated this season.

Guard is getting thrown into the mix in the AHL thanks to an early-season groin injury to the Binghamton Senators starting goaltender Billy Thompson. He is currently sharing the duties with 20-year-old rookie Jeff Glass. Though it’s early in his AHL career, Guard has played well so far, posting a 5-5-1 record (two shutouts), .911 save percentage, 2.74 goals against average, but has done so for a struggling Binghamton team.

“I just want to do my job when I’m called upon,” he told Hockey’s Future. “We want to make the playoffs, for sure. It’s not out of the question. That’s our goal. We have to start playing full games the way we can and we’ll be fine.”

Binghamton is just 7-13-2-1, last in their division, and their best hope appears to be riding Guard, who has by far the best statistics of the three goaltenders used by the team.

The Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native spent last season in North Carolina playing for the Senators’ ECHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. One area the 22-year-old netminder found a great deal of success in while in Charlotte was the shootout. During last season, Guard went 2-0 in the shootout, posting an unblemished mark in stopping all seven shooters he faced. Probably a minority among goaltenders, Guard doesn’t mind the tie-breaking one-on-one match-ups.

“I like the shootouts,” he said. “I think they are good for the fans and it’s your chance to shine.”

Prior to joining the Checkers, he was busy making a name for himself during a tremendously successful junior career.

After one season with the Kindersley Klippers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL), Guard built quite an impressive resume over the next two seasons playing for the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets.

In the 2002-03 campaign, Guard led his team to a Memorial Cup berth. During the regular season, he set a WHL single season record for goals against average (1.93), while also topping the league with six shutouts.

He followed that solid season up with an even more impressive campaign in 2003-04. He broke his own record for GAA in a single season (1.56), while also creating a new league benchmark for shutouts by more than doubling his previous year’s total, blanking 13 opponents.

Among his many accolades, he was named team MVP in the regular season, as well as MVP and top goaltender of the Memorial Cup tournament after leading the Rockets to the title.
After his stellar season with Kelowna, Guard didn’t exactly duplicate the terrific numbers he put up in junior once he got to the ECHL. Sporting a 12-11-2 record and a 3.06 GAA in 26 games for the Checkers in the 2004-05 season, the backstop admitted the transition to the ECHL was a bit difficult, but it should only get easier as he climbs the professional ranks.

“Last year, when I was playing in the ECHL, that was the biggest jump, going there right from junior. But now, from the ECHL to the [AHL], it’s pretty much the same thing for a goalie. I just have to go into all the games prepared and not let up at all.”

The Senators, currently the bottom-dwellers of the East Division, are hoping to find their game in the coming weeks and months, and they are hoping Guard, at least until Thompson’s return, can be a key part of their turnaround.

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