Leeds Chiefs return is an option for goaltender Sam Gospel

NETMINDER Sam Gospel says a second season with Leeds Chiefs is a genuinely attractive prospect but says there are various factors to be considered before his destination for 2020-21 is confirmed.

Thursday, 16th April 2020, 6:35 am
BACK FOR MORE? Goaltender Sam Gospel excelled between the pipes for Leeds Chiefs last season. Picture: Dean Woolley.

The 26-year-old excelled between the pipes during the Chiefs’ inaugural campaign and was voted player of the season by YEP readers in an online poll, as well as at the team’s Supporters Club’s end-of-season awards.

The goalie is among the names at the top of player-coach Sam Zajac’s wanted list for his roster to contest the 2020-21 NIHL National campaign when - all being well - it gets underway in September.

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ON SHOW: Leeds Chiefs' netminder Sam Gospel enhanced his reputation during the inaugural NIHL National season. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie

Last summer, Zajac made Nottingham-born Gospel one of his first signings for the team’s debut season which, beset by numerous difficulties off the ice, saw the Chiefs finish bottom of the regular season standings after the schedule was brought to an earlier-than-expected close due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For a number of years now Gospel has been regarded as one of the top up-and-coming British goalies and the past season with Leeds only served to enhance that reputation, with the ambitious stopper recently re-iterating his desire to go on and become a regular No 1 in the top-flight Elite League.

Whether he gets an opportunity to follow that dream with parent club Nottingham Panthers, or elsewhere, remains to be seen, while it would also be no surprise if a number of the Chiefs’ league rivals made a bid for his services for next season.

For the moment, however, given ice hockey is on hold along with every other sport owing to the lockdown, Gospel has time on his side when it comes to deciding his future.

BOSS MAN: Leeds Chiefs' player-coach. Sam Zajac Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss

The same can be said about the Chiefs, who have yet to make any player announcements for next season, although it is believed they have at least four signings in place.

“I’m taking things step by step,” said Gospel. “At the moment , it seems like the whole world is on pause and hockey is definitely on pause at the minute. It’s definitely a figuring-out point in deciding what I want to do.

“There are options and it is just a case of what is right for me, professionally and for my development. This time of year is always tough, because you never know if you are making the right choice.

“It is always interesting when the season comes to a close because people start talking and you hear various rumours about yourself.

I'LL HAVE THAT: Leeds Chiefs' netminder Sam Gospel makes a glove save against Swindon Wildcats. Picture courtesy of gw-images.com

“I’ve just got to make sure I make the right decision for me. I really enjoyed last year at Leeds and it is definitely an option, but you just have to be selfish sometimes and figure out what is best in terms of your development.”

Throughout his time at Leeds, Gospel remained attached to the Panthers, taking part in several practice sessions per week at the National Ice Centre in-between training and playing games for the Chiefs.

Having been involved in the Panthers’ set-up since the start of the 2011 season after coming through the city’s junior system there is an understandable attachment for Gospel, although chances for British goalies to prosper in the UK game’s top flight remain few and far between.

“Throughout all this I’ve still been training in Nottingham and that has helped me leaps and bounds,” said Gospel. “I can’t thank them enough.

Sam Gospel comes under pressure from Sheffield Steelers' Jordan Owens while in net for nottingham Panthers. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

“I was working regularly with Kevin Carr and Jackson Whistle and it was great to be involved there still. It is definitely a big factor in my development and getting to where I want to be.”

In some ways, Gospel finds himself in a similar position to last summer when his decision to sign for Leeds was very much a step into the unknown, given there was no existing roster and no rink, the latter eventually being ready to play in at the end of January this year.

But once the Chiefs started playing out of their Elland Road rink, Gospel quickly realised his decision to take a chance and move to West Yorkshire to be part of a brand-new franchise, had been the right one, with the potential he believed was possible being realised, even if it was just for a few weeks at the end of the season.

“From the small time we had in Leeds, the fans were sensational, it was at last starting to fill up and it was just promising to see what could happen there,” added Gospel.

“It’s got all the attributes to be a loud, boisterous rink.

“That potential is what originally made me want to go there, the group on the ice, coaching staff management.

“When we finally got into that building it started to take off, that was the real confirmation for me that there is something special that can happen there.

“We were a tight-knit group and it felt like the fans were too. They got really passionate, really quickly. You can see how quickly people have fallen in love with the game there.”