Sparkes on fire for CeeBees

Sizes mat­ters for as­sis­tant cap­tain

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON

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.

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