Proper goalie development will mean more time in ECHL for Sparks

Garret Sparks will go back to the ECHL at least once more before the AHL regular season wraps up- Image Courtesy of Geoff Robins

Garret Sparks will go back to the ECHL at least once more before the AHL regular season wraps up- Image Courtesy of Geoff Robins

January 28, 2014

TORONTO- Serving as the back-up goaltender isn’t the best way to develop, so Garret Sparks will go back down to the ECHL at least one more time this season, according to Marlies head coach Steve Spott.

Because veteran Drew MacIntyre is the most relied-on goalie in the league, and will continue to carry majority of the workload in the second half of the AHL season, 20-year-old Sparks will not get the proper amount of playing time with the Marlies that’s needed to develop the way Toronto wants. So the plan is to swap him with 21-year-old Christopher Gibson, who is currently developing with the Orlando Solar Bears.

“That’ll happen again this year, where we will flop our goalies,” said Spott. “It’s part of the process for developing our goalies. Where they go down, play more games, more consecutive games.”

This past summer Toronto signed Gibson, giving the club two young netminders who would need to be developed. Sparks, who the Leafs drafted 190th overall in 2011, started the year with the Marlies while Gibson got minutes with the Solar Bears. In November Toronto made its first switch of the two so that Sparks would see the same amount of action that Gibson was getting at the lower level. Gibson backed up MacIntyre and started three games with Toronto.

“We have two young goalies and we want to develop them equally,” Leafs VP of hockey operations, Dave Poulin, said at the beginning of the season.

Between the two leagues, Sparks has had a total of 17 starts while Gibson has had 19, including 16 with Orlando.

Currently 30-year-old MacIntyre leads the AHL in minutes played, shots faced and wins. In 31 games he is 20-9-2 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.

While Spott didn’t give an exact date for when the switch will take place, the Marlies have a a 10-game homestand starting Feb. 5 and making the change then seems best as Gibson can come up and train with goaltending coach Piero Greco.

Prospect Brad Ross has now gone 12 games without a goal and Saturday against the Chicago Wolves he found himself as a healthy scratch, again.

The 21-year-old, who the Leafs selected 43rd overall in 2010, has had an inconsistent sophomore season with the Marlies. And unless his game picks up soon, playing time won’t be any easier to come by.

“There’s a very good chance over the next couple weeks we’ll have extra bodies,” said Spott. “The message for Brad is no different than anyone else. You have to work hard to keep your spot in the lineup.”

The Marlies currently have 14 forwards on their roster and as healthy bodies start returning to the Leafs, more players will have to be sent down to the AHL. Toronto has the option of sending Ross down to Orlando of the ECHL, however Spott said that would be up to “management.”

“We’ve got high expectations, he’s got high expectation and we’ll work through it together,” said Spott.

In 33 games this season Ross has four goals and five points. In his rookie campaign, a year that included fighting an inflated roster for playing time because of the NHL lockout, Ross produced eight goals and 11 points in 40 contests.

KYLE CICERELLA

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16 Responses to Proper goalie development will mean more time in ECHL for Sparks

  1. […] On the Toronto Marlies, 20-year-old goalie prospect Garret Sparks has only appeared in eight games because of the dominant play of starter Drew MacIntyre. In an effort to get him more development time, the organization is planning to switch him with Christoper Gibson, who’s plying his trade for the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL. Kyle Cicerella has that story and other Marlies news. […]

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  3. […] Toronto laid out a plan before the season that would try and maximize the amount of game action the two prospects would see. One would back up Marlies veteran Drew MacIntyre and the other would start with the Orlando Solar Bears. Then they would flip at certain points in the season regardless of performance. […]

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