TORONTO– Prospect Garret Sparks has a goal for next season. Earn a spot in net with the Toronto Marlies.
“Ideally that would be the dream,” said Sparks. “I’d love to be (with the Marlies). Where I end up, though, I can only control with my play. I can’t tell (management) where I want to be. So I have to work hard because I’d love to spend an entire season here.”
The 19-year-old is one of six CHL prospects who joined the Marlies when their junior seasons ended in April and he backed-up goaltender Drew MacIntyre as Toronto swept the Rochester Americans in Round 1 of the Calder Cup playoffs.
Seeing action in the post-season is highly unlikely for the 190th selection from the 2011 draft, however the experience he’s gaining as a member of the AHL club bodes well with next season in his sights.
“I’m trying to get (my maturity) up to this level, working out with the players off the ice. I just want to get better every day,” said Sparks.
“(I’m) just trying to feel my way through. Work hard at practice and hopefully win myself an opportunity next year.
Sparks is coming off a work-horse season with the OHL’s Guelph Storm, going 36-18-1 with a 2.65 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and seven shutouts. He led the league in games played, minutes played, wins and shutouts and would have suited up even more if he didn’t take a leave in December to go win a gold medal with Team USA at the Junior World Championship.
His season, however, ended when Guelph lost in the opening round to the Kitchener Rangers. It was the third year in a row the Elmhurst, Illinois native bowed out in the opening round.
“It was a fun year to play,” said Sparks. “I knew coming in I had to be a good player. Obviously we would have liked to go further in the post season, but we handled ourselves better than any other year I’ve been there.”
Sparks had the chance to show Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins a glimpse of what he can do on the last weekend of the regular season when the coach started him in back-to-back games against the St John’s IceCaps. Both games were ended in a shootout, with Sparks picking up a victory in the rematch after stopping all five shooters. In three appearances with Toronto, Sparks went 2-0-1 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .895 save percentage.
“It was great to play a couple games before playoffs, not every prospect goalie got that opportunity,” said Sparks. “Hopefully how I played works in my favor.”
The 6-foot-2 205-pound goaltender could go back to Guelph for an over-age season next year, however that’s not expected to happen.
In the summer, the Leafs will have four netminders at the minor-league level to decide on, including Sparks. MacIntyre is an unrestricted free agent while Jussi Rynnas and Mark Owuya are both restricted free agents. MacIntyre’s already proven he can be relied upon at the AHL level. However, Rynnas has been inconsistent because of injuries and Owuya had a plateau this season with his development and wound up in the ECHL. It’s likely one of the two will not be back.