November 9, 2015
TORONTO – Prospect Garret Sparks is taking advantage of the current situation.
With Antoine Bibeau re-called to the Maple Leafs while Jonathan Bernier is injured, Sparks has stepped up in the Marlies net and on Monday was named AHL player of the week for his work.
“I was just focused on winning games, getting points,” Sparks told LeafsTV. “It’s a great honour and speaks a lot to how well our team played.”
The 22-year-old goaltender went 3-0-0 last week with a 1.62 goals-against average and .950 save perentage – stopping 96-of-101 shots, including a 30-save shutout in a 5-0 win over Hartford on Wednesday.
“It’s always nice when your guys get recognition, especially when it’s deserved,” said Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe.
“He gave us confidence, played really well.”
Prior to Bernier’s injury, Keefe had suggested that Bibeau would be the Marlies’ No. 1 this season, leaving Sparks to pick up most of his starts when Toronto plays on back-to-backs days.
Last season Sparks led the ECHL with a .936 save percentage while Christopher Gibson and Bibeau tended the net for the Marlies.
Despite being put to the back of the line, the Elmhurst, Ill. native hasn’t buckled in his three years as a pro. As his sample size has grown, so, too, has his reliability.
Sparks, six-foot-two 204 pounds, is now 19-8-2 with a 2.42 GAA and .921 save percentage in 33 career AHL games.
The 21-year-old Bibeau, meanwhile, is 20-11-5 with a 2.47 GAA and .913 save percentage in 38 AHL games played over his two seasons of pro.
While playing last year for the Orlando Solar Bears, Sparks was forced to stay confident and work through the adversity as Gibson and Bibeau split starts for Toronto.
He stayed in contact daily with Marlies goaltending coach Piero Greco and once a month Greco would go down to work with him in person.
Sparks credits Greco for where his game is at today.
“Me and Piero have really been working at my game, trying to reel in my athleticism and help me play a simpler game,” said Sparks. “That’s been the difference, a different mindset. Playing a calm and composed game. That’s what you should expect of me going forward.”
Rob Madore is currently backing up Sparks while Bibeau is with the Leafs. It’s still unclear when Bernier will return to action and start the domino effect, but one thing that’s certain is that Sparks could bump Bibeau out of the No. 1 role if he keeps playing the way he is.
Sparks, who Toronto selected 190th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, is 5-2-0 in seven starts this season with a 2.24 GAA and .932 save percentage.
The Marlies next game is Friday against the IceCaps in St. John’s. Toronto is riding a five-game win streak.