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Broadcast Blog: Sparks Goes West

Friday, July 26th
Broadcast Blog: Sparks Goes West

Jesse Liebman is the director of communications and broadcasting for the Orlando Solar Bears and enters his fifth season behind the microphone as the team’s play-by-play voice for the 2019-20 season. Shoot him an email at jliebman@orlandosolarbearshockey.com with questions, comments or blog ideas.

Over the years, the Solar Bears have had the pleasure of developing a select group of players who have been able to take their careers to the highest level of the game. Even when a player advances to the bright lights of the NHL, many of the Solar Bears fans who cheered them on in games at Amway Center continue to track their career progression.

In case you missed it earlier this week, there was some big news involving a member of the Solar Bears’ NHL graduates, as goaltender Garret Sparks was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights after spending the last eight years in the Toronto Maple Leafs system.

For those of you who have only become fans of the team within the last two to three seasons, Sparks achieved legendary status within the Solar Bears faithful in large part thanks to his game-saving athleticism, his ability to toss out a witty quip in a post-game media scrum, his willingness to drop the gloves with what seemed like the entire Gwinnett Gladiators roster in a televised game and of course, his ability to shred one mean air guitar solo.

After leading the ECHL with a .936 save percentage during the 2014-15 season, Sparks continued in his development during the 2015-16 campaign in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, and when the Maple Leafs were hit with a spate of injuries the following season, the goalie from suburban Chicago was able to ascend to the sport’s highest level.

The night he made his NHL debut in November of 2015 was a memorable one, as he not only earned the win in his first-ever major league appearance, but he became the first-ever goalie for Toronto to earn a shutout in their NHL debut, as he turned aside all 24 shots he faced to pick up a 3-0 win over Edmonton.

It’s safe to say plenty of Solar Bears fans were a little choked up that night as he took the ice for a curtain call after being named the game’s First Star.

Oddly enough, after sustaining an injury later on in the season, Toronto would reassign him to Orlando for a one-game stint, and he performed admirably with a 25-save performance in a 4-1 road win over the Florida Everblades.

Since then, Sparks’ tenure with Toronto has had its peaks and valleys – he was named the top goalie in the AHL in 2018 and capped the year with a Calder Cup championship for the Marlies, and appeared to have earned the backup role in Toronto last season before his performance stagnated near the end of the season.

Now to look forward: Sparks will likely attempt to fight out Malcolm Subban for the backup role to Marc-Andre Fleury, but should Sparks see some time in the AHL this season, it will be back home in the Windy City playing for the Chicago Wolves.

Ironically enough, I actually envisioned a scenario where Sparks could wind up in Las Vegas two summers ago when he was left unprotected by Toronto for the Golden Knights to potentially claim during the Expansion Draft, and it’s interesting to see that come to fruition, albeit through slightly different circumstances.

A potential ripple effect as a result of this trade is that this potentially clears the way for another former goaltender to potentially make his NHL debut in 2019-20. Goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo suited up for 34 total games for Orlando from 2016-18, and even received a call-up to the Maple Leafs last season, although he did not see game action. He’ll be 26 by the start of the 2019-20 campaign, so if either Frederik Andersen and/or Michael Hutchinson are sidelined, it stands to reason Kaskisuo would be next in line.

Sosunov has jokes

Last month when I covered Tampa Bay Lightning Development Camp I had a chance to catch up with defenseman Oleg Sosunov, and during my attempts to film him during skating development sessions on the ice at the Ice Sports Forum, I observed a GoPro camera mounted to his helmet, and quickly suspected that the Lightning had him mic’d up as well, which he later confirmed for me.

The Lightning finally rolled out the footage today, and it is GLORIOUS.

Elsewhere around the ECHL & hockey world:

  • Michael Brodzinski inked a one-year AHL deal with the Belleville Senators earlier this week. If he plays in the ECHL, he will play for the Brampton Beast, Belleville’s affiliate. Tentatively circle Saturday, Jan. 4, as that’s when Brampton (and potentially Brodzinski) comes to town for their lone match against the Solar Bears this season. Orlando’s 2018-19 MVP joins former Solar Bears player Jack Rodewald in Ottawa’s development system. Rodewald, by the way, inked a one-year extension of his NHL contract in late June, and has 10 games of experience at the NHL level with the Sens.
  • Zach Frye, another player assigned to Orlando last year through San Jose, will suit up for the Utica Comets after signing an AHL contract with the Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate.
  • Good to see 2011 Stanley Cup champion Marc Savard is back in the league, as he has been hired by the St. Louis Blues to serve as an assistant coach on Craig Berube’s staff. Savard was one of the game’s best passers before his career was derailed by concussions, but in recent years he showed he was still one of hockey’s brightest minds with his broadcast work in both TV and radio.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Solar Bears. All opinions expressed by Jesse Liebman are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Solar Bears or their Hockey Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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