Sparkes on fire for CeeBees
Sizes matters for assistant captain
There are few teams in the Avalon East Senior Hockey League who can boast having a sixfoot five-inch forward with offensive attributes.
In a league full of undersized forwards and tall-goons more likely to start a fight than score a goal, Chris Sparkes is a valuable weapon, and one who has proven especially valuable since returning from injury last November.
Sparkes, who is from St. John’s and has family in Shearstown, missed four games in November because of a recurring shoulder injury whose origins date back to his college career with the University of Southern Maine.
Since returning to the lineup, the 210pound winger has been on fire for the Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars, scoring 11 goals and nine assists in 10 games. Those totals do not include the results of a 10-2 drubbing of the Northeast Senior Eagles on Jan. 14, as the boxscore for that game was unavailable as of The Compass’ deadline.
“Coming back here, you just have to put (the injury) in the back of your mind and just play the game,” says Sparkes, an assistant captain for the team.
His strong play coincided with an eightgame win streak for the CeeBees in the lead-up to its Jan. 21 game against the league-leading Mount Pearl Blades, a team it defeated twice during that stretch.
Sparkes’ game makes good use of his large frame. On a line with Matthew Thomey and Ryan Delaney, Sparkes can often be found in the crease trying score off rebounds or capitalize on nice feeds from his teammates.
“I guess when I first started playing hockey, (my size) hurt me more than anything, because I was pretty unco-ordinated from atom right up to bantam,” says Sparkes. “I finally kind of caught up to my body, and things started coming together, but for a couple of years, I was more comfortable in basketball.”
On the power play, he plants himself in front of the net, and in other situations he likes getting set-up to use his left-handed shot on the right side of the ice.
“Matt has been nice enough to play the left wing all year, so I’ve been on my off-wing. That’s really helping me out.”
Assistant coach Eddie Bartlett praises Sparkes’ leadership skills, while also acknowledging the benefits that come with being such a large, skilled forward.
“He’s really offensively gifted and creative with the puck. Down low, his big long reach allows him to get the pucks others just can’t get to.”
In the CeeBees’ 5-1 home-ice win against the Senior Eagles on Jan. 15, that line was particularly dangerous, creating a flurry of scoring chances with an up-tempo, puck possession brand of hockey. Sparkes collected a pair of assists, and was initially credited for a goal on a play in front of the net. The goal was subsequently awarded to Delaney.
His familiarity with Delaney and Thomey extends beyond the rink, as the trio previously lived together.
“ We seem to just feed off each other. The communication is there, and that’s a big part of it and what helps our line the most. We have that close relationship, and when someone (makes a mistake) and we want to point that out, it works out well. We can take constructive criticism.”
While Sparkes’ return from injury has been greatly beneficial to the CeeBee Stars, the team is not in the clear when it comes to bruised bodies. Shane Gamberg injured his hand in the Jan. 14 game against the Eagles, and defenceman Chad Parsons hasn’t played since Dec. 10 because of a hand injury. Bartlett says there is no timetable on either player’s return.
Parsons was left off the team’s protected list released earlier this month, along with Paul Brown, Claude Garland, and Graham Jackman. The Bell Island Blues selected Brown in the league’s third draft on Jan. 20, while the CeeBees chose not to make any selections.