Exactly 366 days ago, Garret Sparks was tending goal for the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears.
What a difference a year can make.
On Monday, Sparks — the 22-year-old netminder just recalled from the AHL Marlies — was the big story in Toronto, posting a 24-save shutout over Edmonton in his NHL debut.
Sparks’ debut came after the in-form James Reimer went down with injury and Jonathan Bernier struggled mightily to start the year. A seventh-round pick in 2011, Sparks was taken 189 spots behind the guy lined up across from him tonight — that’d be Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in ’11.
So yeah, Sparks might not be high on pedigree. But he’s certainly full value for what he’s achieved.
The former OHL Guelph standout went 8-2-1 with the Marlies this year, with a .938 save percentage and 1.90 GAA. Those numbers impressed the club’s brass and afforded him the chance to get a spot start against the Oilers.
And needless to say, it went well.
Leo Komarov provided two-thirds of the Toronto offense on the night, scoring both the opening goal and insurance marker (into an empty net) to put him on 10 goals for the year. Komarov’s offensive outburst is nearly as surprising as Sparks’ emergence; prior to this season, the gritty Finn had never scored more than eight goals in a single NHL campaign.
Nazem Kadri scored the other goal for the Leafs, who are now 8-11-5 on the year.
As for Edmonton… well, the scoreline says it all. The club has just six goals in its last five games and has been shut out twice (the other occurred last Monday, in a 1-0 loss to the Caps). The defeat dropped the Oilers to 8-15-2, putting them right in the Western Conference basement next to Calgary, with 18 points.