Goalie Garret Sparks doesn’t need any lessons in Wolves history.
From Elmhurst and an alum of the Chicago Mission youth hockey program, the 26-year-old Sparks grew up when the Wolves were the only winning hockey team in the area. During an interview with the Sun-Times, Sparks listed all the Wolves goalies he remembered watching, including Norm Maracle, Kari Lehtonen, Michael Garnett and Ondrej Pavelec.
“You see a lot of names that have come through here,” Sparks said. “It’s cool to be able to put on the jersey now and be able to add your name to that list.”
Vegas acquired Sparks from the Maple Leafs on July 23, and he was assigned to the Wolves on Sept. 22. His regular-season debut could come in Saturday night’s opener at Allstate Arena against Grand Rapids, or it could wait since he figures to split the net with Oscar Dansk.
Whenever it comes, Sparks is looking forward to that first game in Rosemont in a Wolves uniform.
“It’ll be cool,” Sparks said. “I played at the Allstate against the Wolves my rookie year with the (AHL Toronto) Marlies (in 2014), so it will be different to be at the other end and it will be cool to put on the Wolves’ real jersey for the first time.
“I’m just excited to be here and hope to have a good environment to work every day.”
Sparks’ arrival should give the Wolves confidence in their goalie tandem entering the season. Last year, Dansk and Max Lagace combined for 43 regular-season victories, and Dansk was the primary postseason goalie as the Wolves came within three wins of a Calder Cup championship.
Lagace is gone, having joined the Boston Bruins organization, but Sparks brings experience and an NHL pedigree. He appeared in 37 games for the Maple Leafs and also led the Marlies to the 2018 Calder Cup title, when he compiled a 31-9-2 regular-season record with a 1.79 GAA. In those playoffs, he was 14-5 a 2.22 GAA.
“(Sparks) being there, winning it, it’s huge,” Wolves goaltending coach Stan Dubicki said. “It’s huge.”
Unsurprisingly, coach Rocky Thompson didn’t divulge his plans for balancing playing time for Sparks and Dansk, but he did concede that trying to divvy up playing time between them is a good problem to have.
“The initial evaluations of (Garret) is, he’s been very positive,” Thompson said. “He’s excited. He wants to get better. That’s the most important thing.”
Another important thing for Sparks - or the vast majority of AHL players - is another NHL chance. For AHL goalies, it seems that might be hard to earn if their partner is getting most of the games and playing well.
Sparks, though, sees it a different way. He thinks goalie partners can advance further and play better if they’re building each other up, providing support when the other one has the net, and generally being unselfish and team-centered.
“I think (Dansk) is a great goalie and I’m fortunate that he’s here because I think it pushes me to be a better version of myself as well,” Sparks said. “Hopefully, we can feed off each other all year and see what kind of heights we can push each other to.”
Dubicki echoed that.
“We’re lucky to have both guys here,” Dubicki said. “It’s going to be a great tandem. You can tell already.”