December 8, 2014
TORONTO– Being sent down to the ECHL was only supposed to be a temporary assignment for goaltender Garret Sparks.
But with his recent struggles, a set back from an injury, and both Marlies netminders playing better than him, it could be a while before he’s dressing for Toronto again.
With three goalie prospects and just two spots available on the Marlies, Sparks was the lone man out after training camp and sent down to the Orlando Solar Bears to start the season. The plan was to get him some game action, continue his development and eventually bring him back up— rotating with either Antoine Bibeau or Christopher Gibson. Barring injury that, however, isn’t going to happen any time soon as both goaltenders have continued to outplay the Illinois native.
“Right now we’re in a position where we have two goaltenders that have played very well for us,” said Marlies coach Gord Dineen. “I have no fault put on those two guys right now. We’re focused on the guys here right now.”
The Marlies recently snapped a nine-game losing streak, but those losses came from the team’s inability to produce goals and not because of poor goaltending. During that stretch Toronto scored just 13 goals and were shut out twice. On many occasions Toronto’s keepers gave their club a chance to win.
Gibson, from Karkkila, Finland, has played 13 games with the Marlies, going 4-8-1 in the process with a 2.44 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Bibeau, a Victoriaville, Que. native, has started nine games and is 4-5-0 with a 2.41 goals-against average and .916 save percentage to go along with two shutouts.
Sparks, who was drafted by the Maple Leafs 190th overall in 2011, had a promising start to his season with Orlando but suffered a lower-body injury that forced him to miss nine contests. Since returning to action in late November he has struggled heavily and will have to play his way out of it.
Since returning, Sparks has allowed 13 goals on 56 shots in three games— two of which he was pulled from. Through seven ECHL games this season he’s sporting a record of 2-2-0 with a 4.05 goals-against average and .889 save percentage.
“We know what Garret’s capabilities are and if he isn’t playing up to those standards we have to find a way to get him to that. And it’s something he has to take ownership of too, find a way to get those numbers up and help his team win,” said Dineen.
On Friday Sparks found himself on the bench after allowing three goals on nine shots in just 8:34 of action. Following the game he spoke to Marlies goalie consultant Piero Greco on the phone in length about what he was doing wrong and how to fix it. Greco has also been down to Florida to work with Sparks in person and the club plans to send him back in an effort to get Sparks moving back in the right direction.
“We’ve had constant communication with coaches down there, Piero was down there three weeks ago and he’ll go back very soon,” said Dineen.
The expectation on Sparks was that at the ECHL level he would be the everyday starter for Orlando, but his recent run has cost him his coaches faith as Vince Williams has selected both Kent Patterson and Maxime Clermont over him in recent outings.
Orlando’s next game is Tuesday against the Elmira Jackals. The Marlies next contest is Friday when they face the Utica Comets.