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Toronto Maple Leafs Sparks’ NHL debut marked by history, tears and perfection

Damien Cox, Sportsnet | posted Tuesday, Dec 1st, 2015

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Unexpected and unscripted. It happened just that way. The best way.

Young goalie, chubby and seemingly exiled to the low minors less than a year ago, gets a chance out of the blue to start an NHL game for a very famous team fallen upon hard times. Few imagine this as a solution to anything.

Goalie’s parents sit in the stands watching. Goalie gets a shutout. Makes history.

Goalie cries when interviewed.

Rocky Balboa did something along those lines after being pummelled by Apollo Creed the first time, and I seem to remember Todd Gill weeping a bit after the Toronto Maple Leafs upset the Detroit Red Wings in the 1993 playoffs.

But this was just simple and perfect — certainly too perfect for Toronto’s rarely-anywhere-near-perfect NHL franchise.

On Monday night at the Air Canada Centre, 22-year-old Garret Sparks of Elmhurst, Illinois, the first American to start in goal for the Leafs since Scott Clemmensen, also became the first Leafs goalie to register a whitewash in his NHL debut since… since… nobody.

“They’ve been playing hockey for a long time around here,” said Sparks afterwards. “So that’s kinda cool.”

Kinda. By that point, Sparks was relatively composed after letting the tears flow in his post-game interview. He was as endearingly emotional as a hockey player can get on Nov. 30 of a six-month season that ends somewhere far down the road, undoubtedly remembering being an Orlando Solar Bear in the East Coast Hockey League with almost zero chance of ever being a Leaf not very long ago.

“I’m a little lost right now, sorry,” he said as he searched for answers to questions nobody imagined asking him just last week.

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