Sheffield Steelers make Brandon Whistle’s Elite League stay permanent with new two-year deal
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Soon after arriving in the UK, he had agreed a two-way deal with Sheffield Steelers, his appearances initially limited to just a handful with parent club Leeds having first call on his services.
But the shock departure of his father in mid-January - owner Steve Nell surprising many people by replacing him as head coach - while unwelcome news for the former Steelers’ coach, produced an unexpected opportunity for his youngest son.
Unhappy at the decision to replace his father behind the bench, he effectively then became a Steelers player in all but name, not playing for the Knights again from late January onwards.
His form, meanwhile, went from strength to strength in South Yorkshire, taking him to the fringes of the Great Britain roster for last month’s World Championships and proving enough to earn him a new deal to stay in with the Steelers for at least two more years.
Steelers’ head coach Aaron Fox - who had initially chosen not to retain Whistle when first taking over the reins back in the summer of 2019 - quickly changed his opinion, with the former Telford Tigers’ forward earning plenty of plaudits from his Steelers’ team-mates and fans alike.
Whistle will return in August for pre-season training camp fuelled by the desire to avoid another trophy-less campaign, an outcome that was even harder to stomach given the promising position Fox’s team had got themselves into in terms of the regular season title race.
They lost out Belfast Giants in that battle, while Cardiff Devils knocked them out of the Challenge Cup in the semi-finals, in Sheffield.
Worse was to come when they failed to even make the play-off weekend, edged out Dundee Stars in the two-legged quarter-finals.
“For us to kind of lose it a little bit at the end of the year was really tough,” said Whistle. “But that will only motivate the guys returning and the new guys coming in - essentially every trophy that is up for grabs you want to win and that will be no different next season, especially after the way last season ended.”
Aside from a sense of unfinished business, another key factor in Whistle’s eagerness to stick with the Steelers was the influence of Fox himself.
Despite the awkward start to their relationship just under three years ago, it was a completely different story when their paths crossed again last September.
Fox’s signing of a three-year deal himself earlier this year was also part of the attraction for Whistle to stick around.
“I really enjoyed playing for Foxy - and Carter (Beston-Will, assistant coach),” added Whistle. “He does a great job of getting the best out of his players and the fact he gave me an opportunity and kind of ran with me there, it puts a lot of confidence in myself as a player and then I’ve got a lot of confidence in him, too.”
Of his time in Leeds, Whistle acknowledges the role it played in him preparing him for a return to the Elite League, despite the way his playing time there ended.
“I enjoyed my time in Leeds, the fans were great to me and my team-mates,” he added. “I wish the club nothing but success and hopefully they can put a good product on the ice and I’m sure they will - it could be a great place play in that league, the rink that they’ve got, the atmosphere that they’ve got now and the players that they have got.
“Me leaving midway through (to the Steelers) was possibly the best thing to happen for me. It was kind of just something that worked out for the better for me, even though it came about in bad circumstances really.”
Fox was keen to get Whistle back on a two-year deal, having been impressed with his contributions, particularly during the latter stages of the season, one which saw him post nine points, including six goals, in 33 appearances.
“Brandon brings high hockey IQ, plays on the right side of the puck, he makes plays and got better and he just got better as the year went on,” said Fox.
“He’s a player I can really trust to give me a solid effort every night and I’m expecting him to take another leap this year and continue to get better.”