Throughout the season their has been a continuous debate on who the #1 goalie should be. They have both shown promise and capability of getting the job done, and it will be interesting to see how they progress moving forward. It will also be interesting to see who starts in the playoffs… That’s right, I said playoffs, because this isn’t another Bernier vs Reimer debate… You’re welcome for that.
Rightfully so, majority of the focus is directed towards Nylander, Brown, Leipsic and other quality prospects developing in the system. We really don’t see much attention paid to the goalies – who deserve due credit for the success of the Marlies.
**Shift from hockey to UFC for a moment**
Bruce Buffer: “Ladies and gentlemen, IT’S TIME, for your Toronto Marlies, AHL Playoffs… Introducing first, in the red corner, weighing in at 190 lbs, standing 6 feet 1 inches, from Karkkila Finland, CHRISTOPHER “THE GIBBER” GIBSONNNNNN!…… And his opponent, in the blue corner, weighing 210 lbs and a towering 6 feet, 2 inches, from Victoriaville Quebec, ANTOINE “THE BIBS” BIBEAUUUUUUUUUU!… The referee for this bout is Garret Sparks….”
**Back to hockey**
Joking aside, all 3 goaltenders have had tremendous seasons. Gibson and Bibeau obviously holding down the fort in Toronto, while Sparks being forced to play in Orlando (note: he didn’t get put in the ECHL because of his performance, 1 of the 3 had to go down there and it happened to be him).
Gibson, 22 years old, was drafted in the 2nd round by the Kings in 2011, but was unable to secure a contract following his ELC. Toronto was fortunate enough to sign him as a free agent, and he has produced as a top AHL goalie in just his first full pro season – posting a 0.921 save percentage, 2.42 goals against average, 24-17-3 record, plus 2 shutouts.
Bibeau, the Leafs 2013 6th round pick, is just 20 years old and has played his way onto the Marlies roster in his first pro year. Definitely a pleasant surprise, to say the least, when a 6th round pick can make an impact to your club this early. He really burst onto the scene last season with Val d’Or, being named the QMJHL playoff MVP and taking his team to the Memorial Cup. This year, Bibeau has put together a strong AHL debut finishing the year with a 0.913 save percentage, 2.71 goals against average, 14-10-5 record, and an impressive 4 shutouts.
Sparks may be the most interesting out of the three, and I’m not only referring to how his season unfolded, but also his personality. Whether he’s air guitaring with his goal stick during a time-out or making a “Strombone-like” comment on Twitter, I’m sure he’s a treat to have in the locker room. The 21 year old, 7th round pick in the 2011 draft started the 2014-15 season off with injury problems, which ultimately led to him being send to the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears. 36 games with the Bears, Sparks maintained a 0.936 save percentage, 2.34 goals against average, 21-7-3 record and 5 shutouts. His 2 AHL games combined to 0.966 SV%, 1.00 GAA, and 1 shutout. All in all, a really great season and being sent to the ECHL had nothing to do with how he played.
Pump the brakes!!!!
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Knowing how Toronto works with their silly media and success-hungry fans, we can’t let ourselves get carried away. Flashes of brilliant play doesn’t mean we have the next Carey Price, and times of struggle doesn’t mean they’re Justin Pogge. Development is often a roller-coaster, especially with young goaltenders. There’s no pressure for any of these 3 guys to be our next franchise goalie, so let them move at their own pace.
This summer should welcome a large amount of change for the entire organization. That could mean one of Reimer or Bernier will be packing their bags, therefore opening a backup role with the big club. There is a possibility a veteran backup will be signed, but I don’t see the need for one when you have 3 capable young goalies in your system.
Based on the amount of games played and experience, I would assume Gibson is currently next in line. That means Bibeau and Sparks are left to handle AHL duties, which is specifically good for Sparks to remain with the Marlies apposed to the ECHL. However, training camp could definitely change that, and any 3 of these guys could get a chance. Oh, and this is assuming Reimer or Bernier is actually traded.
The Marlies begin their playoff journey soon and it’s still undetermined as to who will get the start in goal. I’m not going to debate who should start, because quite frankly I’m tired of debating over Toronto goalies…. *crickets*. But one thing is for sure, in a time of disappointment and sorrow as a Leafs fan, you can be assured that goal-tending is an area we don’t need to worry about.