**UPDATE** The Marlies will face the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in Round #1 of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
With the final buzzer today at the Ricoh Coliseum, the Marlies completed the 2015-16 regular season by posting a 4-2 victory over the visiting Rochester Americans.
Garret Sparks, was the second star of the game, but most of the focus was on the young goaltender to see if he could answer the performance posted yesterday by teammate Antoine Bibeau.
Short answer: Sparks was more than up to the challenge.
Head Coach Sheldon Keefe announced that the two Marlies goalies would split the weekend series versus the ‘Muricans and then decide who would be the starting goalie for the playoffs (yup they are finally here).
Sparks was incredible, stopping 45 of 47 shots on goal today. Not only was Sparks up to the immense challenge between the pipes but he also delivered a secondary assist on the 2nd Marlies goal scored by Hickmott. The kid isn’t shy to move the puck and loves being active in the play, it must go back to his skills in summer hockey where he plays Forward.
Prospect, Andrew Nielsen also had his second point in the 5 games that he has played with the AHL club however is a dash 2 and at times looks to be caught off guard by the outside speed that opposition forwards have in the professional league. No worries, there as this is all about experience and development. I am a huge fan of this kid, and excited to see what he can do next season. Nielsen figures to be a healthy scratch for the playoffs but continue to practice with the Marlies throughout the playoffs run.
Yesterday, Antoine Bibeau stood on his head in stopping 33 of 34. Knowing that he needed to provide Keefe, a massive statement game in order to potentially get that playoffs start, Bibeau was very effective with his performance. The technical ability between the two goalies is most noticeable in Bibeau. Always seemingly square to the shooters, and never scrambling out of position he relies on angles and absorbing pucks without allowing rebounds.
To me Garret Sparks is also sound but relies on quick legs and athleticism. Not saying that Bibeau isn’t athletic, it is a slight style variation in their games but both are very effective and BOTH have the confidence of Head Coach Sheldon Keefe.
There you have it, the Marlies have provided the fans (and management) with an incredible regular season. Setting new win records for the franchise and leading the entire AHL in points it is now time to see how deep this team can go into the playoffs. The Calder opponents will be determined soon, but those opponents better be ready for a 5 line deep Marlies squad.
The question is now, who will Coach Keefe select to start the playoffs both in goal, and on those top 4 lines.
Get ready fans. It’s time to rock the Ricoh.
Announced attendance on Saturday: 6567
Announced attendance at the Ricoh today: 7715
Next Game: To be determined.
Next Opponent: Also to be determined.
Photos Courtesy of: Christian Bonin of TSGPhoto