From the goalie of the future for the Toronto Maple Leafs, to AHL goalie of the year, to Calder Cup champion, and now back in the ECHL with the Orlando Solar Bears. How can the AHL’s best goalie in 2017-18 sign an ECHL contract just a few seasons later? In this article, I will be talking about the rise and fall of Garret Sparks.
Garret Sparks was drafted in the 7th round in the 2011 NHL draft and was a solid goalie for the Guelph Storm (OHL). At the beginning of Sparks’ professional career, he bounced around the AHL and ECHL with the Marlies, and Solar Bears putting up very solid numbers. With his second season with the Marlies, he would post a 915 SV% in 21 games. Sparks would continue with these insane numbers as he would only finish with a below .910 SV% once and that was in his rookie season with the Marlies.
Bursting Onto the Scenes
Sparks would start gaining attraction from Leaf fans when he would make his NHL debut and got a shoutout, breaking past Leaf records. He would play 17 games and posted a .893 SV%. He would continue with the Marlies the following season, playing 31 games with a .922 SV%. Going into the 2017-18 season fans knew this Marlies team was special. One of the best goaltending tandem in the league, with great defense, and offense. Well, Sparks would live up to that hype and would appear in 43 games posting a .936 SV%, Winning AHL best goaltender, on route to winning the 2018 Calder Cup. Garret would get the respect he deserved and got a shot with the Leafs the following season.
Becoming an NHL Goalie
Sparks’ first season as the Leafs backup would be very disappointing for a lot of fans. Sparks would play in 20 games with a 902 SV%. Fans would quickly get frustrated with the lack of saves when needed. It didn’t help that head coach Mike Babcock would play Sparks against the harder opponent during back-to-backs. The Leafs would eventually trade Sparks to the Golden Knights for David Clarkson and a 4th round pick in 2020. He would eventually be sent on waivers and would play 26 games with the Chicago Wolves posting a 908 SV%.
Back to the AHL/ECHL
After Sparks’ contract expired he signed with the Orlando Solar Bears. After having a great start to the season he would look to get back to his AHL form with the Stockton Heat. Appearing in 16 games and putting up a .913 SV%. He would continue in the backup role the following season with the Ontario Reign. He also played in 2 games for the Los Angeles Kings and put up a .936 SV%. Sparks is now under contract with the Orlando Solar Bears where he’s having a down year, appearing in 12 games with a .886 SV%.
In my opinion, I think Sparks deserved an opportunity to keep developing at the NHL level. The team’s defense wasn’t great at the time, and yes the team couldn’t get a save when they needed it. But I think Sparks needed time to gain confidence at the NHL level. The last team he played on was a championship team with amazing defense so adjusting to a higher level of play and also not the best defense in the league obviously it would take time to get used to. In his first 20 games, Garret put up a .902 SV% so I really think with a bit more time developing I think we still could have seen sparks in the NHL.
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