October 14, 2014
TORONTO — Antoine Bibeau has put together an impressive six months of hockey and for that the Toronto Marlies had no choice but to start him to open their AHL season.
The 20-year-old rookie, who was drafted 172nd overall in 2013 by Toronto, had a mediocre regular season last year in the QMJHL split between the Charlottetown Islanders and Val-d’Or Foreurs before emerging in the post-season.
He back stopped the Foreurs to the QMJHL title and a spot in the Memorial Cup in May— where he put together a 51-save shutout against the London Knights to highlight the tournament — and signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs soon after.
It was unclear where Bibeau would start his first season of pro. A solid showing at the Memorial Cup and better showing at training camp, however, earned him the starter’s role in the Marlies season opener Saturday against the Utica Comets.
“I had a good camp and I wasn’t really expecting to start but I was really happy,” said Bibeau after stopping 30-of-32 shots in a 2-1 loss to the Comets.
“He was very solid…He looked pretty steady in there. Overall pretty good showing,” said coach Gord Dineen.
Bibeau is the rawest of the three goaltender prospects currently in Toronto’s system and was last on the depth chart behind 21-year-old’s Garret Sparks and Christopher Gibson, whom already have a season of pro under their belt. But he outplayed both of them in exhibition with the Leafs and through Marlies camp after all three were sent down. The decision to give him Game 1 of the season was simple for Dineen.
“Based on his training camp and what he’s done up to this point through this year — he probably showed the best out of our three goaltenders at training camp so that was the decision made,” said Dineen.
On Sunday the Marlies used Gibson against the Comets and he made 25 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory. After the game, in a somewhat surprising move, the Marlies demoted Sparks to the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL.
Last season Sparks was ahead of Gibson on the depth chart and went 11-6-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 21 games with the Marlies. Sparks started off slow last season, but after a brief stint with the Solar Bears in January he returned to Toronto and put up much better numbers. From February on he went 7-1-1 with a .926 save percentage and earned the back-up role behind veteran Drew MacIntyre for Toronto’s post-season run.
“I think we’ve explored every scenario and in the end play dictates where guys end up,” said Dineen.
While being sent to the ECHL isn’t the ideal situation for Sparks, it will lead to more game action — and that’s a benefit.
“You want to make sure that everybody is getting a fair evaluation and you don’t want to inhibit their development by keeping them (in Toronto) and just practising,” said Dineen.
In the past Toronto has rotated goalies with their ECHL affiliate to maximize games played rather than just sitting on the bench or not dressing with the Marlies. Bibeau currently seems to be emerging as the one to keep an eye on, however with three goalies still early in their development Dineen isn’t hesitant to turn to who is playing best at the moment. All three will dress for the Marlies at some point this season.
“It might end up out of the three of them they could play equal time,” said Dineen. “You always hope that people make a hard decision for you, that means they’re doing their job. I have full confidence in all three of them.”
As for Bibeau: “I just go one day at a time, I don’t want to think too far (ahead). Every time I come to the rink I reset.”