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Garret Sparks to make NHL debut in Leafs’ net Monday

The rookie goaltender had an 8-2-1 record with the AHL's Toronto Marlies this season.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

With James Reimer sidelined, and Jonathan Bernier struggling, the Toronto Maple Leafs will turn to rookie Garret Sparks when they play host to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday.

Sparks, who spent the bulk of last season in the ECHL, will make his first career NHL start.

“I didn’t expect it to happen this quickly, but I’ve been working at my game since July now. I’ve had a good amount of time to work on it and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at, so I’m just really excited to get in there,” Sparks said following Sunday’s practice per TSN. “It’s been a whirlwind. I was in Syracuse on Friday expecting to start and now I’m back here so I’m really excited and just going to go do what I can with the opportunity.”

Sparks got an opportunity to carry the load with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies this season when Antoine Bibeau was recalled to back up Reimer.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Illinois native put together an 8-2-1 record to go along with a .938 save percentage and a 1.90 G.A.A. in 11 AHL games.

“The way I look at it is, when you get your opportunity, you’ve got to make good on them. That’s what everyone does. That’s what Reims did. Got an opportunity and got going and found his way,” said Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. “Now we’ve got another situation here that Sparks has an opportunity, you’ve got to grab it. Is he ready for the opportunity? We’re going to find out.”

The seventh-round pick will become the fourth Leafs selection from the 2011 NHL draft to play for Toronto joining Josh Leivo, Stuart Percy and David Broll.

Bernier’s poor play continued on Saturday night as he allowed four goals on 23 shots in the Leafs’ 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals. It was his first start since a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 15.

The 27-year-old declined interview requests on Sunday after learning Sparks would start on Monday.

“We’ve been going through this since the start of the year. I think there’s been a lot of talking that’s gone on. The bottom line is just get to work, work hard everyday and compete real hard and listen to the goalie coach,” Babcock said on Saturday night. “You try to find your game.

“The bottom line is… you can’t give up four in the National Hockey League and win. It’s just impossible.”

Bernier is now 0-8-1 in nine appearances this season to go along with an .888 save percentage and a 3.28 G.A.A. He has not won a game since April 5 with his last regulation victory coming on March 3.

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