Garret Sparks described his final season with the Toronto Maple Leafs as “emotionally taxing” several days after being traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for a fourth-round pick and the contract of David Clarkson.
“I mean, you realize your dream of playing in the NHL, and then you know, as the season goes on, it gets harder day by day,” the backup netminder told Tracey Myers of NHL.com. “It’s a grind, physically and emotionally. You could be on the best team in the league, but you’re going to face adversity at certain points.”
The 26-year-old was technically the longest-serving player in the Maple Leafs organization at the time he was traded. He was selected in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, however he toiled away in the AHL and ECHL for years and only saw action in 37 total regular-season NHL games.
The 2018-19 campaign was a tumultuous tale of two seasons for Sparks.
He beat out Curtis McElhinney and Calvin Pickard for the backup role behind Frederik Andersen thanks to a strong showing in training camp and pre-season, which resulted in both McElhinney and Pickard being placed on waivers and claimed.
Sparks made 20 appearances this past season. During his first 10 outings the Elmhurst, Ill., native went an impressive 6-2-1 despite posting a less-than-stellar .905 save percentage.
In early January, though, he took a puck off his head at practice that resulted in a concussion and his season went downhill from there.
“I felt I was finally starting to build some momentum and get my chance,” Sparks said. “I just felt like I got cut down, and it’s hard to regrow after you get your progress chopped off like that.”
His final 10 appearances were rough as he went 2-7-0 with a .899 save percentage and eventually wore out his welcome.
“All I’ve wanted is a fair opportunity, come camp, to try and make the team and I think that I’ll get a better opportunity [with the Golden Knights] than I would have in Toronto,” Sparks said. “At the end of the day, that’s what you’re looking for as a player.”