ESTERO, Fla. — Athletes are conditioned to be prepared for anything that comes their way. Florida Panthers goalie Mack Guzda knows this from experience.
If all had gone according to plan last year, Guzda’s first professional season last year would have been backing up Alex Lyon with the Charlotte Checkers and easing into things.
Yet due to all the things which went down with the Panthers and their goalie room last season, Guzda found himself not only becoming the starter for the AHL Checkers when Lyon was called up to the Panthers — but he was called up as well.
“Exciting for sure,’’ he said when called up in January. “A dream come true.”
While Guzda only dressed and did not appear in any NHL games, that could come soon enough.
Stranger things have happened, right?
“I went in to my first year pro and really did not know what to expect,” said Guzda, who started and played the entirety of Florida’s opener of the Southeast Rookie Showcase at Hertz Arena on Friday, making 27 saves in a 4-1 loss to Carolina.
“I think that was a pretty crazy year and even got called up a couple of times, played more games than even I had thought. It was really good for my development. I just want to build off what I learned. I feel that I am a much better goalie than I was last camp, I am going to come into camp and play to the best of my ability.”
Last season was definitely a learning experience for Guzda who started out backing up Lyon but, as the season went along, ended up becoming the starter in Charlotte.
An undrafted free agent who signed with the Panthers in 2022, Guzda ended up going 16-9-3 with a shutout for the Checkers.
“He is competitive,” Charlotte coach Geordie Kinnear said Friday night. “First and foremost, he is a good teammate. What we love about him is he fights on every puck in practice and that makes his teammates better.
“He put a big summer in and you can just tell it is going to be a good year for him. … What a fabulous year he had. There were a lot of ups-and-downs and that is supposed to happen. He came through the adversity and continued to get better.”
This season could actually end up being more like the one envisioned for Guzda last year.
The Panthers go into training camp with three NHL goalies in starter Sergei Bobrovsky with newcomer Anthony Stolarz and Spencer Knight expected to challenge for the backup job.
Florida may send Knight to Charlotte to start the season in order to get a lot of game action after he left the team in February for personal reasons.
The Panthers also have 27-year-old Ludovic Waeber in the mix and the thought is Florida could have three goalies in Charlotte this season.
That could mean a lot less playing time for Guzda. Or not.
Regardless, he says he will be ready for whatever comes his way.
“There were a lot of situations last year I got to see that I did not necessarily expect,” he said. “I learned from the opportunities, tried to learn from Bob and Lyon. Playing with Lyon all year, I learned a lot. I am trying to take that experience I gained and come back, take a step forward and that is my whole goal.”
2023 Southeast Rookie Showcase
At Hertz Arena, Estero
Friday: Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Nashville Predators 2; Carolina Hurricanes 4, Florida Panthers 1
Today: Carolina Hurricanes vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 3; Florida Panthers vs. Nashville Predators, 6
Sunday: Practice day
Monday: Nashville Predators vs. Carolina Hurricanes, 10 a.m.; Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers, 1 p.m.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Now: Free agency is open
- Today, Monday: Rookie Showcase (vs. Carolina, Tampa Bay and Nashville), Estero
- Thursday: Training Camp, Sunrise/Coral Springs
- Sept. 25: Preseason starts; Doubleheader v. Nashville @ Sunrise
- Oct. 7: Preseason ends; v. Tampa Bay Lightning @ Sunrise
- Oct. 12: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season at Minnesota Wild (Bally Sports Florida)
- Oct. 19: 2023-24 Home Opener vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (BSF)