A wire to wire win.
After allowing only 74 goals on 1736 shots against, Garret Sparks is at the end of an incredible AHL campaign that saw him at the top of the save percentage (.936), goals against average (1.81), and shutout (6) rankings all season with his only competitors being goalies who have half the sample size he does. There was no other choice.
The Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award for the league’s top goaltender contains a very impressive list of NHL goalies that the 24-year-old is now a part of. Here are the most notable names since 1984.
Felix Potvin (1992), Manny Legace (1996), Martin Biron (1999), Dwayne Roloson (2001), Jason LaBarbera (2004, 2007), Ryan Miller (2005), Michael Leighton (2008), Cory Schneider (2009), Jonathan Bernier (2010), Jake Allen (2014), Matt Murray (2015), and Peter Budaj (2016).
Sparks has been dominant, consistent, and professional every day he steps into the rink. You can see it on the stat sheet, you can see it in his press scrums, and you can see it in his demeanor on the ice.
Sparks always makes it a priority to say that he alone isn’t the reason for his success.
When he broke Justin Pogge’s all-time wins record for the club, Sparks made a point to mention that it wasn’t just him: “wins are a team stat so everybody had a piece of it today.” Fast-forward almost exactly a month and Sparks is still harping on how important his teammates have been in front of him. The duo of Sparks and Calvin Pickard have helped lead the Marlies to having the fewest goals against in the league.
“You can’t win an award like this without a full team commitment to defense and to playing the right way on a daily basis. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been in a run and gun situation this year. When we’re committed to our structure, committed to staying above guys, and playing defense it limits the chances Calvin and I face.”
Along with having the league’s best team in front of him, Sparks credits his goalie coach, Piero Greco for a lot of his success.
“It really started in September, I guess even in the summer, in terms of the things i was doing to prepare for the season. Once i got back to Toronto, getting to work with Piero Greco every day goes a long way towards making sure your game’s where you want it to be. I have him to thank for everything.”
It’s safe to say this season has been a banner year for Sparks. How about we go through the list of accomplishments:
- Breaks Justin Pogge’s record for all-time wins for the Toronto Marlies.
- Breaks the franchise record for shutouts in a season at six.
- Goaltender of the Month honours for January.
- First goaltender in the Toronto Maple Leafs system to earn 30 wins in an AHL season since AHL Hall of Famer Bob Perreault won 31 games for Rochester in 1967-68.
- First goaltender in the AHL to lead the league in save percentage, goals against average, and shutouts since Peter Budaj in 2015-16 (who did it in a remarkable 60 games).
And of course, one cannot forget the myriad of incredible saves he had to make. Here is just a taste.