September 11, 2011
Leafs hopeful soaks it up
By Terry Koshan, QMI Agency
OSHAWA — If it’s being preached by Francois Allaire, that’s good enough for Garret Sparks.
Sparks and fellow goaltender Mark Owuya are getting an intense taste of the methods of the Leafs’ netminding consultant at the team’s rookie tournament and, already, Sparks is anticipating what he is going to take back to the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League.
“It’s calm, under control and there is no chaos involved,” Sparks said. “Never sliding around, puck is always in front of you and you never have to worry about that acrobatic, desperation save.
“I thought I was calm before, but at the same time I played pretty aggressively out of my crease.”
Where Allaire, has had goalies who don’t see eye-to-eye with his instructions — Vesa Toskala was one and there’s talk that Jonas Gustavsson is another — he helped mould Patrick Roy and Jean-Sebastien Giguere into Stanley Cup champions.
Sparks is counting on being the No. 1 goalie with the Storm this season and, for Allaire, that’s a small part of the bigger picture. Since he was hired in June of 2009 by the Leafs, Allaire has stressed the importance of developing goalies from within. In Allaire’s mind, young men such as Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas, as well as Sparks and Owuya, have the potential to be as important in the Leafs’ future as James Reimer and Gustavsson.
“We need competition,” Allaire said. “There was no competition, no system, there was nothing two years ago when I came.
“We need to have some kind of talent, where the pool is big enough to where we can adjust pretty quick. That’s what a good organization is. We have to have some depth.
“We’re starting to have some now and the Leafs are at the point where they can draft guys instead of signing free agents. Finally, we are going to have something to go on.”
The 18-year-old Sparks was the 190th pick overall by the Leafs in the NHL entry draft this past June. A native of Elmhurst, Ill., Sparks was at home lying in bed, half awake, when his agent to called to tell him he suddenly was a Leafs prospect. Before he could climb out of his slumber, his parents, who had been following the draft online, came to tell him the news.
“It was an instant lift,” Sparks said. “It was just a great day all around after that.”
When Sparks looks at Reimer, he is not discouraged by the fact that Reimer signed a three-year, $5.4-million US contract with the Leafs in June. Barring a collapse, which few think will happen, Reimer is going to be the Leafs starter for a long time.
Sparks, rather, is encouraged by Reimer, who was not a factor in the Leafs’ immediate plans a year ago.
“If you’re good enough, you are going to find somewhere to play,” Sparks said. “It’s a mindset. You can’t worry about who is in front of you. You have to remember that you can’t control anybody but yourself. It’s something goalies have to learn to deal with early on in their careers.”