TORONTO (Dec. 2) — As I write, today, I am repeatedly checking the “live look” website of Mount Rushmore to note which president (George Washington or Abe Lincoln) will stand beside the Garret Sparks carving.
Upon news of the historic, never–accomplished–before shutout on Monday night against the 30th–place Edmonton Oilers, the great grandchildren of Gutzon Borglum lugged their tools mountainside and began the 5,725–foot climb toward the faces. No–such carving has occurred on the famed ridge in Keystone, South Dakota since federal funding dried up in October 1941. Borglum III and friends have — in their possession — a Toronto Sun image of Sparks bawling out his eyes on the ice at Air Canada Centre. The tears may be difficult to replicate in granite but I’m told Sparks’ face is bony enough to ensure a remarkable likeness. Carving time? Less than two years. Funding? Rogers Communications and Larry Tanenbaum (Bell Canada Enterprises declined to get involved, citing “insufficient capital” upon last week’s employee purge).
Tuesday morning headlines in the wake of the Miracle on Bay Street tell the story…
Globe and Mail: LEAFS’ GARRET SPARKS TRAVELS LONG ROAD FROM ECHL OBLIVION TO NHL GLORY.
Toronto Star: SPARKS GIVES LEAFS FANS SOMETHING TO GET EXCITED ABOUT.
Toronto Sun: GARRET SPARKS HAS HISTORIC DEBUT IN MAPLE LEAFS SHUTOUT VICTORY.
Here we go again. Yet another conquistador has leaped into the fray.
What we need now, and quickly, is a visit from Ron Wilson — provider of sardonic wit.
Flashback: Dec. 21, 2008. A hotel ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta.
Having flown south from Pittsburgh, where the Leafs routed the Penguins, 7–3, the night before, I stood with a half–dozen media colleagues awaiting the arrival of Justin Pogge. The lanky native of Fort McMurray, Alta. had checked into the hotel after a morning flight from Toronto. Summoned on an “emergency” recall from the American Hockey League Marlies, Pogge would make his National Hockey League debut the following night at Philips Arena against the Atlanta Thrashers. The Leafs’ No. 1 stopper, Vesa Toskala, had yanked something or other in the Pittsburgh game and could not play. It was “Pogge Time” — nearly four years and six months after being nabbed by the Maple Leafs, 90th overall, in the 2004 NHL draft.
A 6–2 romp over the foundering Atlantans, 24 hours later, prompted wild celebration up and down Yonge St. Or, so I was told on the telephone from Dixie. The latest in a long line of goaltending saviors had arrived… and prevailed. That Pogge’s grandma could have beaten the 2008–09 Thrashers mattered not in the hours after his fruitful inauguration. Wilson, the first–year Leafs coach, assumed a practical stance — complimenting the kid on a “pretty good effort in a game that he didn’t have to be spectacular.” The plan, Wilson confirmed, had not changed. Young Justin would be returned to the AHL once Toskala felt capable of performing on his wonky groin. Which happened for the next game. Pogge–mania was put on hold.
Flashback: Jan. 27, 2009. The visiting coach’s office at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Justin–2 was hardly a Justin–1 sequel. Recalled from the Marlies, Pogge made his second NHL start and appeared decidedly discombobulated in a 6–1 blasting by the Minnesota Wild. Afterward, Wilson pilloried the Toronto media. “See what happens when you build a statue for a guy after one game?” honked the coach, referring to the illumination of Pogge’s triumph a month earlier. As it were, the Minnesota result far exceeded the Atlanta conquest with respect to Pogge’s NHL career… and his future as a Maple Leafs bulwark. Five appearances later, Justin vanished. Poof! Just like that. When last spotted, he was packing a large, European–bound duffelbag. J.P. currently tends cage for Farjestads of the Swedish Hockey League.
So, there is a lesson here.
For every Mike Palmateer and Felix Potvin, there’s a Vincent Tremblay, Jiri Chra, Peter Ing, Mikael Tellqvist, Andrew Raycroft, Justin Pogge and Jonas Gustavsson. Immediate exploit is difficult to sustain in hockey’s toughest environment. More often than not, heroes–from–nowhere incite delusional expectation. Almost always, it results from media handiwork. To suggest, as did the Globe and Mail headline, that Garret Sparks had attained NHL “glory” with one victory over the worst team in the league — even if tidy and impressive — shows the despairing condition of the hockey market here in Toronto. And, succinctly, how this market often serves to preclude long–term establishment in blue and white.
Let’s give Sparks half a chance.
That Rushmore carving will take time.