The Garret Sparks Cinderella debut made for one of the great truly emotional moments in a professional sports world that works so hard to manufacture flimsy human interest story lines.
A lower profile subplot might be the fact that a Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender who was actually drafted by the team proved proficient enough to play at the NHL level — or was not traded elsewhere. That’s something of a Cinderella story in itself.
The past two plus decades have been dominated by goaltenders from other organizations, whether it be the best (Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour), the worst (Vesa Toskala), or in the in-between (Andrew Raycroft and Jonathan Bernier).
Since 1985 the Leafs have drafted a total of 21 goaltenders. Only two have managed to play a total of 60 or more NHL games in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform. They are Felix Potvin (second-round choice in 1990) and James Reimer (fourth-round choice in 2006).
In the three drafts from 1982 to 1984 alone, the Leafs selected three goaltenders who would play at least 60 games in the blue and white (Ken Wregget, Allan Bester, and Jeff Reese).
Of the other 19 draft selections (from 1985 to 2015) one goaltender, Tuukka Rask (first-round choice in 2005), would star for the Boston Bruins, while Eric Fichaud (first-round choice in 1994) had moderate success with the New York Islanders. Three netminders played some games with the Leafs, though fell shy of the 60 total NHL game mark, including Damian Rhodes (sixth-round in 1987), Peter Ing (third-round in 1988) and Mikael Tellqvist (third-round in 2000).
Antoine Bibeau (sixth-round in 2013) plays with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League and still could have an NHL future in Toronto.
The rest of the goaltenders drafted by the Maple Leafs since 1985 consist of Mitch Murphy (twelth-round in 1985), Mike Gregorio (eleventh-round in 1988), Robert Hornya (ninth-round in 1990), David Brumby (eighth-round in 1993), Doug Bonner (sixth-round in 1995), Francis Larivee (second-round in 1996), Jamie Hodson (third-round in 1998), Vladimir Kulikov (seventh-round in 1999), J.F. Racine (third-round in 2000), Jan Chivan (seventh-round in 2001), Todd Ford (third-round in 2002), Justin Pogge (third-round in 2004) and Grant Rollheiser (sixth-round in 2008).
What category will Sparks fit into? No Leafs goaltender has ever had a more successful first appearance than his shutout over the Edmonton Oilers on November 30th.
Can he at least get to the 60 game mark in a Toronto Maple Leaf uniform that has eluded all comers except for Potvin and Reimer over the past 31 years?
The concept of developing from within is the cornerstone of Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamairello’s template for the 2015 Toronto Maple Leafs. They might just have uncovered a very pleasant surprise right in their very own backyard.
Only time will tell in the case of Garret Sparks.