Garret Sparks’ mom, Lisa, would sit down on a single step in the family kitchen, a bucket full of tennis balls by her side, and try to chuck them past her seven-year-old boy, who’d frantically block the fuzzy projectiles from hitting a rather wide “net”—a turned-over pool table.
“I don’t know if the love of goaltending came from that, but she definitely helped prepare me for big games when I was younger,” Sparks grins. “You gotta do what you gotta do at that age to get in the zone, and it worked.”
Lisa’s son is now 24, on top of his game and his league.
Sparks backstopped the Toronto Marlies in back-to-back home victories, one in OT, over the weekend to seize a 2-0 series lead over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL’s Eastern Conference final.
The seventh-rounder (2011) is now 8-2 with a .921 save percentage in a charmed post-season that is serving as an encore for his pristine regular-season campaign.
Sparks’ 31-9-1 record, six shutouts, 1.79 goals-against average and .936 save percentage easily earned him the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award for the AHL’s outstanding goaltender. He and accomplished partner Calvin Pickard, acquired via an eyebrow-raising trade from Vegas, also captured the Harry “Happ” Holmes Memorial Award, the farm circuit’s equivalent of the William Jennings.
“It’s really been a nice partnership,” says head coach Sheldon Keefe. “Just the way [Pickard] is as a teammate and just the energy that he has around the rink and the success that he’s had as a goaltender has really helped Sparks find another level in his game and push him to be at his best every day.”
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