February 27, 2014
TORONTO- Goaltender Christopher Gibson has been cleared to return to action, which means Garret Sparks is one step closer to returning to the ECHL.
“Once we get Chris back we’ll look at getting Garret back with Orlando,” said Marlies head coach Steve Spott.
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.
Currently both are with Toronto as Gibson was brought up on Feb. 16 to rehab a back injury suffered in January while playing for the Solar Bears. When he’s healthy enough to play he will take his turn with the Marlies while Sparks will head to Orlando for a second time.
Gibson practiced on Tuesday for the first time in three weeks and was cleared by doctors to suit up on Saturday if he feels his body is ready to go.
“It’s up to Chris, everyone thinks coaches and doctors make the decisions but the player does,” said Spott. “When he’s ready to play we will re-evaluate.”
The benefit of being in Orlando is more game action. Being in Toronto, however, makes it easier to work with goaltending coach Piero Greco, which has been a major advantage for Sparks as he’s spent more time with the AHL club than Gibson.
Sparks got off to a slow start with the Marlies to open the season but since returning from his first stint with the Solar Bears his game has been elevated.
“I can’t take any credit, that’s Piero Greco,” said Spott.
Greco, who was brought in from the Kitchener Rangers when Spott was hired to replace Dallas Eakins, has spent many extra sessions before team practices working with Sparks and the numbers show a difference in his game.
One of the major changes Greco made with Sparks is getting him to lower his stance so he is more explosive going side to side in net. He also requested that Sparks keeps his glove higher up rather than dropping it to his side.
“Piero has been diligent in making him more competitive in the net, and changing his glove position,” said Spott. “The big thing for (Garret) was he might have been susceptive to that one goal a night you want to have back and he’s eliminated that soft goal. That’s a real positive for me.”
After opening the AHL season 0-3-0 with a 4.10 goals-against average and .848 save percentage, Sparks has bounced back and won six of his last eight starts with 1.99 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage.
Gibson was 2-1-0 with a 1.68 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in his first go-round with the Marlies back in November.
Between the two leagues, 20-year-old Sparks has played 1142 minutes this season while his 21-year-old counterpart Gibson has been in the net for 1236 minutes.
It’s expected that Gibson will back up MacIntyre when the Marlies host the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday.