Brandt Clarke admits he didn't know much about Mack Guzda before the Barrie Colts acquired the 6-foot-5 goalie from the Owen Sound Attack in November.
"I knew he was an overage goalie," Clarke, the Colts captain, said. "He's in the Western Conference and we don't see him too much. I knew he was pretty good ... but, wow, since he's got to Barrie, he's taken it to another level. He's getting a lot of praise right now and he deserves it."
Guzda and the Colts will host Shane Wright and the Kingston Frontenacs on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT on TSN.ca, the TSN App and TSN Direct.
Guzda, 21, was named the Ontario Hockey League goalie of the month in January. He also received that honour in December. The Tennessee native is 16-6-2 with a .924 save percentage this season. He is 11-2-1 with a .931 save percentage since joining the Colts.
"You just feel so comfortable, especially as a defenceman, knowing you have him back there," Clarke continued. "He always bails you out. He's a tremendous goalie and he's going to go on to do special things."
National Hockey League scouts certainly seem to agree. The undrafted Guzda is now being wooed by a handful of teams. He spoke to TSN about the "crazy" courtship and explained how he rebuilt his game during the pandemic pause.
The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.
TSN: Where have you improved the most this season?
Guzda: "I had a long time there, with us missing a season, to take a look at my entire game. The work I did over that year has helped me build a good, consistent foundation and that's helped me out this year."
TSN: What did you do?
Guzda: "I was back home in Nashville. I was pretty lucky as we didn't have any shutdowns or anything like that, so I didn't really miss a beat on the ice. My dad [Brad Guzda] is a goalie coach for the Seattle Thunderbirds now and I was with him basically every day on the ice. I looked over video and all the goals I gave up over the last couple years and tried to find patterns. I was able to rebuild parts of my game and that helped out a lot."
TSN: What patterns did you see?
Guzda: "At times, early in my career in the OHL, there were some pucks going through me. I'm a pretty big guy and I take up a lot of net, so I've been able to get rid of a lot of the pucks that seemed to be squeaking through. Those adjustments helped out big time."
#OHL Goaltender of the Month Mack Guzda (@GuzdaMack) made 200 saves in January, going 5-1-0-1 for the @OHLBarrieColts while posting a 1.86 goals-against average and .939 save percentage 🎥 pic.twitter.com/vAyNrM3n1C— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) February 1, 2022
TSN: Is there a goalie in the NHL you like watching and model your game after?
Guzda: "It's tough to say one goalie. There's certain pieces from different guys that I like to model my game after. I don't think there could be one goalie where I just specifically try and model my game after."
TSN: So, who are some of the guys?
Guzda: "I like watching Tuukka Rask. I know he hasn't played much this year, but there's some aspects of his game that I've watched video on, and I like. Obviously, everyone likes Andrei Vasilevskiy. He's a big goalie and moves well. I like the way he fights through traffic and stuff like that. And, if you grow up being a goalie, everyone likes watching Carey Price as well. So, some of the calmness in his game is something to take from him."
TSN: How does a kid from Tennessee end up in the OHL?
Guzda: "My dad is Canadian. He actually grew up in Western Canada [born in Banff, Alta.] and lived in Ontario for a bit growing up. For me, it was something I always talked about with him growing up. It was always a big goal of mine. So, when I got drafted to Owen Sound and got that opportunity, it was a no-brainer."
Guz was a rock for us for three years in Owen Sound, incredibly happy to see him have the success that he's having. https://t.co/0mCAgT2U6r— Sean Lafortune (@SeanLafortune) February 3, 2022
TSN: Your dad was a goalie. Is that what attracted you to the position?
Guzda: "I'd say so, yeah. I remember starting as a player my first year, but once I got in net, you know, everyone wants to be like their dad. So, I think that was a big part of it."
TSN: What's the biggest thing you take from your dad?
Guzda: "Just his work ethic. He didn't play Major Junior or anything like that. He played Junior B, went to school for a bit and ended up, a couple years later, signing an NHL contract. So, the way he stuck with it, the way he kept working is something I really admire about him."
TSN: What do you like about being a goalie?
Guzda: "I just like the ability to control the game. If you think about it, if you don't get scored on it's going to be tough for your team to lose, so just having that power to be able to change the outcome of games is exciting."
TSN: What's it like getting so much attention from NHL teams?
Guzda: "It's been a crazy last couple weeks here. For me, the important thing is to stay focused on what got me to this spot, which is game by game, practice by practice, just taking it one day and one step at a time and not getting too far ahead of myself on anything like that."
TSN: When do you think you might make a decision on where to sign?
Guzda: "I'm not sure. That's kind of for my agent to discuss with teams and stuff like that. Right now, we got a really good team here in Barrie. I'm just enjoying these guys and taking it day by day."
TSN: What intrigues you about the potential of playing in Toronto for the Maple Leafs?
Guzda: "Obviously, they're a great organization. You can say the same thing about most teams in the NHL. All the news is great. I'm obviously thrilled, but, again, for me it's really important to take care of what got me to this point and stay focused."
TSN: How did the meeting go with the Leafs?
Guzda: "Everything's been good. My agent has done a good job setting everything up. It was good. We got a big game on Thursday so I'm not thinking too much about anything like that."