by Lindsey Willhite | AHL On The BeatWhen Garret Sparks was seven years previous, his mother and father, Mike and Lisa, determined it appeared like the appropriate time to introduce him to hockey.They signed up Garret for the Scooters program on the Elmhurst YMCA – the identical out of doors rink the place Mike began taking part in in fourth grade and developed right into a goaltender. Scooters, a program that continues to thrive at the moment, encourages mother and father to get on the ice with their youngsters whereas instructing the fundamentals of skating and hockey.“We had a whole lot of enjoyable,” Mike stated.For the ultimate session, the Scooters coaches wished to carry a scrimmage to point out off everybody’s progress. Only one downside: Each child was a skater. Goaltending wasn’t a part of this system.With the mother and father off the ice and watching from the opposite facet of the glass, a coach requested for 2 children to volunteer to play goalie. No person moved a muscle. So he requested once more.“I distinctly keep in mind trying by way of the glass and seeing my dad standing there,” Garret stated. “And being like, ‘He’d in all probability prefer it if I used to be goalie.’ ”So Garret volunteered.“Caught me completely abruptly,” Mike stated.Dad helped son placed on the YMCA’s donated gear: Black and blue pads. Pink masks. Yellow jersey. It was a mismatched set of drugs, nevertheless it was the proper match for Garret.“I felt like I might be a much bigger issue within the sport there,” he stated. “I simply wished to be essential.“My legs shot out. My palms labored. I might stand there. I might take a look at the puck. I labored it out. I had a goalie coach. I imply, he was my dad, however he knew learn how to play goalie. So I had any person who knew the fundamentals, however wasn’t drilling issues into my head or giving me concepts concerning the place. He was simply telling me the basics that have been going to make me profitable.”Has the 26-year-old Chicago Wolves standout been a profitable goaltender? Allow us to depend the methods. Throughout his youth hockey years with the Chicago Blues, Chicago Mission and Staff Illinois, his groups received both a state, nationwide or worldwide championship all seven years he performed.Picture: Shane AbbittHe had so many trophies crammed into the basement of his Elmhurst dwelling, he wouldn’t even pause his rambunctious mini-sticks video games when one thing broke.“I didn’t have any idea of how they may be price one thing sometime,” Garret stated. “Not monetarily, however as one thing you might look again on. They’d be on cabinets and so they’d fall and I’d be like, ‘Eh. Oops.’”Garret was chosen by the Toronto Maple Leafs within the seventh spherical of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. However earlier than he turned professional, he received a gold medal taking part in for america within the 2013 U20 World Junior Championships. His teammates included Seth Jones, Johnny Gaudreau, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ryan Hartman and different NHL mainstays.As soon as he turned professional, he stored climbing the ladder. On Nov. 30, 2015, he grew to become the primary goaltender in Maple Leafs historical past to supply a shutout in his first sport for the franchise. In 2017-18, he backstopped the AHL’s Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup title and earned the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Award because the league’s most excellent goalie.Final 12 months, Garret spent the whole season with the Maple Leafs. This 12 months, after being traded to the Vegas Golden Knights group, Garret has retained his spot on the high of the AHL’s statistical charts whereas taking part in for the Wolves. He put collectively a scoreless streak of 191 minutes, 14 seconds Oct. 23 by way of Nov. 10, breaking the franchise file set by Matt Climie in 2013 whereas making 115 consecutive saves.However for all of those achievements and accolades, Garret all the time has felt like he needed to overcome hurdles and doubters so as to show himself.In highschool, the 6-foot-2, 188-pounder weighed 225 kilos and was instructed he was too massive to reach web. As quickly as he confirmed in any other case and the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm drafted him, he was instructed he wanted to lose 20 kilos so as to be a part of their crew.Weight wasn’t his solely subject. Garret boasts a free spirit’s persona kindled, partly, by the very fact his mother and father raised him to be an unbiased thinker. He additionally prefers to not flip off the mind that earned a 32 on the ACT and flirted with straight A’s at Elmhurst’s York Excessive College.“Lots of people have been like, ‘He’s fairly uncooked and his angle isn’t what you’d anticipate of a hockey participant and his course of is totally different and his pursuits are totally different,’” Garret stated. “Lots of people have been prepared to jot down me off at that time.”A FORWARD AT HEARTWhich results in one other instance of Garret’s willingness to go his personal manner. As a lot as he enjoys being a goaltender, he may love taking part in ahead much more. When he was taking part in for the Marlies and Maple Leafs, he’d present up at out of doors rinks randomly in Toronto and play rat hockey with strangers.“Each on occasion, any person would acknowledge me,” Garret stated. “However I wasn’t saying who I used to be. I used to be simply taking part in hockey.”“All summer season lengthy, he doesn’t go wherever close to his goalie gear,” Mike stated, “until it’s for a charity sport.”Garret began this observe years in the past when, in a exceptional coincidence, he struck up a friendship with Robert Levin – the son of Wolves proprietor Don Levin.Robert, one 12 months older than Garret, was a junior hockey goaltender earlier than occurring to play at Arizona State. Robert and Garret had a mutual goaltender buddy from Libertyville named Joey Garapolo. Sooner or later, Garret found Robert and Joey would go to the Wolves’ observe facility in Hoffman Estates in the course of the summers and prepare with Wolves normal supervisor Wendell Younger and goalie coach Stan Dubicki. Garret wheedled his manner into the group – however to not work on his craft in web.“He would come out and play ahead,” Dubicki stated. “He simply loves taking part in. He’s a hockey-aholic. He simply has enjoyable. He’s 26 years previous, however he’s like a 14-year-old child. It makes him really feel nice. Truly, I feel it makes him a greater goalie, too. As a result of if you begin taking part in ahead, you begin pondering how they assume. And he’s a reasonably darn good ahead. He handles the puck rather well.”“I used to be simply capturing for the goalies,” Garret stated. “I used to be simply doing the drills accurately for them. I wished to shoot. Wendell, seeing this 18-, 19-, 20-year-old skilled goalie refusing to play goalie, that in all probability blew his thoughts. I didn’t have that drive to placed on the pads day by day. The settlement was each on occasion I’d play goalie. It was essentially the most enjoyable I’ve ever had taking part in hockey and coaching. It was simply fulfilling.”“We’d work laborious right here,” Garret stated whereas sitting within the Hoffman Estates observe facility, “then we’d spend the remainder of the day on the Levins’ pool home. Then we’d discover a solution to get again up within the morning and are available again right here and do all of it once more. It was superb. We have been dwelling.”Picture: William J. Abate“THE WOLVES WILL ALWAYS BE THE WOLVES”One in all Garret’s objectives whereas taking part in for the Wolves this season: Recapturing that “dwelling” feeling he used to have. A little bit of it slipped away final season in Toronto, the place he dealt together with his first severe harm (a concussion) and the fallout that adopted.Garret doesn’t simply care about how he fares within the web, he cares about how the Wolves fare within the market. He grew up watching the Wolves win massive and desires the following technology to be desirous to do the identical.“I might see a whole lot of Wolves video games on TV on the nights I didn’t have video games or I had practices,” Garret stated. “I loved watching the video games. I loved the broadcasts. I used to be very conversant in who their greatest gamers have been. As a child, the Wolves had an impression that the Hawks didn’t have as a result of they have been accessible. I feel we have now a particular alternative as a franchise to bridge that hole between the NHL and kids who aspire to be at that stage.“For a very long time, I’ve been interested by the entire organizational facet of hockey. This can be a distinctive scenario the place this can be a very storied franchise and we have now the flexibility to carry that story ahead. This crew went to the Calder Cup Finals final 12 months. We now have good gamers. We now have good coaches. We now have good services. We now have an excellent affiliate. The Wolves will all the time be the Wolves. I simply assume we will proceed to – by way of profitable and the way we go about our enterprise – generate buzz about this crew on this metropolis.”Garret has despatched emails to Wolves officers full of concepts about learn how to generate this buzz. One factor he’s positively going to do: Head again to the Elmhurst YMCA and work with children at that fabled out of doors rink. His present plan is to point out up on Feb. 17 when faculty’s out for Presidents’ Day.“Can’t wait,” he stated.