December 12, 2014
TORONTO– Recovering from an injury is never easy.
Bouncing back from one in the ECHL can be even more difficult.
Goaltender Garret Sparks had a promising start to the year with the Orlando Solar Bears with the goal of playing well enough to be summoned back up to the Toronto Marlies. But a lower-body injury suffered in just his third start of the season halted his play and became a bigger issue than originally anticipated likely because of his club’s schedule.
Sparks went down on Oct. 26 after being hurt in a game against the Florida Everblades and didn’t skate for the following week. By the time he was ready to practise the Solar Bears embarked on a 13-game road trip that he went along on, which limited his access to a proper training facility and routine.
It’s unclear what the original time line for his return was expected to be, but he didn’t suit up for a game again until Nov. 28 against the Toledo Walleye – Orlando’s eighth game of its extended trip. In total Sparks missed 13 contests.
“It’s nice to be at home, it’s a different environment,” Sparks told reporters after returning to Florida. “Rehabbing the injury on the bus was a difficult thing to do.
“There wasn’t much time for me to practise and get my legs under me. It wasn’t a favourable situation. I pushed it, tried as hard as I could to make it a smooth transition but it was something that just took time.”
With limited practice time, the Leaf prospect returned to action and showed evidence of rust as he was pulled in his first start after allowing five goals on 17 shots in 22 minutes of action.
In his second start back, the 190th pick from 2011 NHL Draft gave up five goals on 25 shots in a loss to the Fort Wayne Komets. He then followed up that outing by being yanked again after giving up three goals on six shots in eight minutes against the Greenville Road Warriors.
“I’m healthy now and hopefully those three games are far behind me,” said Sparks. “The three games before, it got to me a little bit but at the end of the day you have to move past it.”
Since returning home, Orlando has played twice and Sparks has started to show signs he’s regaining his form.
He stopped all seven shots he faced in a relief appearance on Dec. 9 against the Elmira Jackals and then made 30 saves in a 5-2 victory on Thursday against Elmira. It was the Illinois native’s first win since Oct. 9- the second game of the ECHL season.
“It was a no-pressure, everything to gain nothing to lose situation,” said Sparks about his relief appearance. “Injuries are mentally trying so it was nice to step on the ice and have the fans acknowledge me.”
Orlando’s next game is Monday against the Indy Fuel.
In nine games Sparks is 3-2-0 with a 3.27 goals-against average and. 902 save percentage.