Kevan Guy is pretty sure that if he had become a fighter, he'd still be in the National Hockey League with the Calgary Flames.
"It's just not my attitude," says Guy, the Golden Eagles' top defenseman and one that Coach Paul Baxter says is the best in the International League."It would be better for my career," he admits.
"I think I can play in the league without doing that," says Guy, a 6-foot-3, 202-pounder who does everything else well and whom Baxter calls "a consummate professional."
Guy, a third-year pro, spent 28 games with Calgary last season he even played a few times as Baxter's defensive partner and was one of the final cuts by the Flames this season. "They wanted somebody who was going to fight," Guy says. He didn't fit that role, and the Flames got some guys who did.
Still, Guy whiled away much of this season commuting between Salt Lake City and wherever the Flames were playing as the No. 1 injury replacement for perhaps the best defense in hockey, one with five players who've been NHL all-stars.
"I would say he'd be in the NHL next year," says Baxter. "He's an NHL defenseman."
He's somebody Colorado Coach
Peter Mahovlich worries about as the Eagles and Rangers play their best of seven semifinal Turner Cup series this week. "I've always thought very highly of him," Mahovlich says. "He moves the puck well. He doesn't try to do too much. He plays a solid game and doesn't get himself into any trouble."
That translates into a team-leading +24 plus/minus rating for Guy. That is perhaps the only significant statistic for a defenseman who doesn't rack up penalty minutes or generate offensive rushes for points like Jim Leavins, who is Mahovlich's other concern in the Eagle defensive cadre. In 24 regular-season games for the Flames last season, Guy was +8.
Baxter calls him "a bit of a throwback; he's very concerned with the defensive side of the game."
That means casual fans really don't notice him.
To know what Guy's play means to Eagle players and coaches, says Baxter, "You'd have to watch him five games in a row."
Guy agrees that's an apt comment. "You're not noticed as much when you don't get points," he says, preferring recognition from teammates. If he can stop a 2-on-1 break by the other team and keep opposing forwards from getting behind him, it's as good as scoring.
While he says that fighting "is something you don't just learn it takes a while to change," Guy did change the rest of his game and his mental attitude as well, starting when he was a junior in Medicine Hat.
He came into juniors as a rushing defenseman. "When I was younger, I was the top point man, I had all the points in the world." As he went up the junior ladder, "The tempo picked up. You had guys that could really score, and the goaltenders were better," he recalls.
His coach began teaching him a different way "to do the simple thing, make the safe play instead of the great play." In his first two pro years in Moncton, Coach Terry Crisp, now the Flames' coach, taught him to dump the puck off the boards instead of always passing to think instead of acting instinctively.
Crisp also forced Guy to grow up mentally when he benched him for nearly two months in mid-season.
Crisp never told Guy why he was benched after Guy thought he had been a leader in the early season, doing penalty killing and power-play chores in addition to regular defensive shifts. It puzzled Guy, but he chose to always be ready for the next game instead of moping.
That mental consistency is now one of Guy's best assets. "Some of us let little things get to us; others are able to stay focused on the task at hand," says Baxter. "Kevan doesn't let certain circumstances throw him off his game at any time."
That has served him well for the past six weeks. The Hockey News carried a story in March saying Guy is the player-to-be-named-later in the Flames' trade that sent Eagle captain Peter Bakovic to the Vancouver Canucks for fighting forward Craig Coxe. "No comment," says Baxter. Guy has no idea if it's true. "It'd be nice to know," he says, but he doesn't let it interfere.