While the Toronto Marlies have made most of their headlines for scoring a league-leading 51 goals in their first 13 games, the team has been pretty good at keeping them out of their net as well. Garret Sparks has been a significant part of that, and as such, the American Hockey League has named him as its player of the week.
Sparks played in three games this week, against Hartford, Utica, and Binghamton. Over those three games, the 22-year-old faced 101 shots and stopped all but five of them. Each game had a different type of exclamation point tacked on to its sentence, so to speak; he had a shutout against the Wolf Pack, stopped both of the Comets’ shootout attempts, and got revenge against the Senators, as their 5-1 victory in the two teams’ previous meeting had been the only significant smudge on Sparks’ stat line this year. “The team has been playing well in front of me and scoring a lot of goals,” said Sparks of the hot start. “I’ve also been working on all of the parts of the game that Piero [Greco, Marlies goaltending coach], and I have been looking to correct.”
North American Pro Goaltenders Since October 2014
The Elmhurst, Illinois native has quietly been one of the best professional goaltenders on the continent over the past calendar year. While Sparks has had the “benefit” of playing in the lower-end ECHL for many of his starts, the league isn’t known for top notch goaltending; his league-leading 0.936 SV% last season was orders of magnitude above the 0.904 league average and 12 points above second place.
History is repeating itself in the AHL this year; his 0.932 SV% is well above the average of 0.906, and places him in 8th in the league. Peter Budaj leads the AHL with a 0.947, an enormous improvement on the 0.888 SV% he had with St. John’s through 19 games last season.
Sparks will receive an award in a pre-game presentation when the Marlies return to Ricoh Coliseum later in the month. Despite being far from the biggest accolade he hopes to get in his career, he says that the perhaps slightly excessive piece of etched crystal will be a keeper in his collection.
Photo Courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com