Wednesday, December 02, 2015


A Sparkling Effort!!

I struggled to come up with a theme for this week’s column. The Grey Cup game was great, as usual, but a little disappointing for Eastern Division fans. Toronto Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson was named as the American League Most Valuable Player, and rightfully so. The Raptors are beginning to show signs of consistency. And yes, I did celebrate my 70th birthday last Sunday.

All of that pales in comparison to the event which took place on Tuesday night in Toronto. The Maple Leafs defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-0, and the shutout was recorded by Garret Sparks in his first NHL game. For the record, that is a first for a Maple Leaf, ever. There have been some wonderful goaltenders between the pipes for the Leafs over the years, including: Turk Broda, Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Bower, Harry Lumley, Curtis Joseph, Don Simmons.

To say that Sparks was a bit shell-shocked after the game would be an understatement. In his post game interview, on the ice, he stated: “I can’t even describe it. Thank you, thank you.” With that, he spun around and headed for the dressing room. Naturally, he was the first star in the game.

Sparks is an Illinois boy who played his junior hockey for the Guelph Storm. He began there in 2010, and spent three years in a Storm uniform. He was the 190th pick overall by the Leafs, and the second last goaltender drafted. He played three games for the Baby Leafs, the Marlies in the 2012-2013 season. He has always been in the Leafs system, with the Marlies and the ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears.

Coach Babcock made reference to the fact that Sparks is having a pretty good season with the Marlies this year. In eleven games, he has a sparkling 1.90 Goals Against Average, and two shutouts. In his shutout performance with the Leafs, he was grateful to his goal posts, which made things easier for him. Twice in the second period. As they say, a goalie’s best friend.

James Reimer has played well for the Leafs this season, but has been sidelined with a “lower body injury”. That is never good news for the fans. It can mean many things, including a nasty lower groin injury or a “sports hernia’. Many an athlete has had a career cut short with this type of injury. Hopefully for Reimer, it is not serious.

Bernier has had a really tough time of it for the Leafs this season. He has won only one game, lost eight. Confidence is a key for all athletes, particularly goaltenders. With Sparks’ performance, Bernier could certainly be feeling the heat. And not just from the red light!

We are at the quarter pole for the season. Babcock knows that he must get his troops to play better hockey for the remainder of the season, in order to make the playoffs.

At this point, a win is a win, even against the hapless Oilers, who are struggling without Connor McDavid. Once he returns, they will be a fine team.

Sparks is 22 years old, and knows the trials of the hockey world. While playing in the ECHL, he once endured a 30 day road trip, on the bus! Now, there is an incentive to play well!

Keep your stick on the ice!

James Hurst


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