Antoine Bibeau practicing Thursday ahead of Marlies season opener, competing for starting job with Garret Sparks.

Marlies Bibeau, Sparks share net as season begins

Competition for starting job will continue for a while

Antoine Bibeau and Garret Sparks will start as the Toronto Marlies’ goaltending tandem when the regular season gets going Friday against the visiting Manitoba Moose.

Though it was unclear as of game-day morning who would be in net for the opener, it is likely that the two will split starts between the two-game set with the Moose on Friday and Saturday.

“I’m not sure yet who’s starting,” said Bibeau, after the team’s practice Thursday. “I think we’re just going to split the games, but I’m not sure who’s starting (game one).

“But it doesn’t matter what game I’m going to be playing in, I just want to play my best and give my team a chance to win.”

Sparks, the other half of the goaltending duo, spent the summer improving on his overall physical condition and being prepared for any situation that he may be thrown into.

The 22-year-old from Elmhurst, Ill., will be ready to play when the time comes, regardless of when that might be.

Marlies goaltender Garret Sparks is determined to earn more starts this season.
Marlies goaltender Garret Sparks is determined to earn more starts this season. (Steve Gordon / Toronto Observer)

“It’s all about being prepared for whatever situations you’re thrown into,” said Sparks, outside the team’s dressing room Thursday. “Whether I’m Friday, whether I’m playing Saturday, whether I’m not starting Friday, but end up having to play Friday.

“Just being ready for whatever comes at you and not being caught off guard.”

While the two are in direct competition for the starting job and would like to gain the majority of the assignments, they both have the Marlies success this season as their number one priority.

“It’s a friendly competition,” said 21-year-old Bibeau. “It’s exactly like last year, we were in the same situation.

“We know we have a good team in front of us this year and we just want to do our best every night and have a good season and give the team a chance to win.”

The Victoriaville, Que., native started 32 games for the Marlies last season, finishing with a record of 15-10-5.  He also played in one playoff game, giving up three goals in the loss.

Sparks saw significantly less action last year, appearing in just two games.  He will push for time in the crease this season and will have more of an opportunity given that last year’s 45-game starter Christopher Gibson was moved to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in a trade that brought Michael Grabner to the Leafs organization.

“It’s competitive, but it’s respectful and it’s friendly,” said Sparks. “We know that ultimately we’re going to be able to lean on each other and push each other and both of us will be better goalies for having somebody who is that good as your partner.

“Nobody is going to be just handed starts, you’re going to have to earn them. Having that kind of competition day in and day out is going to benefit both of us.”