Easy decision for Sam Gospel as he signs up for Leeds NIHL National return
IN TRUTH, netminder Sam Gospel needed little convincing when it came to signing for Leeds again.
Ever since the inaugural NIHL National 2019-20 season was brought to an early halt in March last year because of the pandemic, the 27-year-old has always had thoughts of returning to Elland Road in the back of his mind.
As was the case for many ice hockey players, not just in the UK but around the world, the sport took a backseat for Gospel as he adjusted to life without ice, eventually joining what he labels the ‘real world’ and getting a ‘proper job’.
The Nottingham-born goalie had already agreed last summer to return for Leeds Chiefs under player-coach Sam Zajac. But, ultimately, he signed up for a 2020-21 season that never got off the ground, with potential start dates arriving and passing by as Covid-19 continued to wreak its havoc.
The behind-closed-doors Streaming Series took place last October and was followed earlier this year by a slightly-expanded five-team Spring Cup, involving five NIHL National teams.
But there was no ice time for Gospel until he tried his luck in the ‘Brit-Draft’ which took place ahead of the ongoing Elite Series involving four teams from the UK’s top-flight Elite League.
He was picked up by Manchester Storm coach Ryan Finnerty and, for the past five weeks has been on the ice on a daily basis, initially as the team’s third-choice goalie.
He got a start in a 4-3 defeat to Coventry Blaze and although most of his time has been minding the gate on the Storm bench, just being back around hockey has renewed his love for the game.
“I’ve really enjoyed being part of the Manchester Storm set-up, with a new coach and getting a fresh outlook on things,” said Gospel.
“The last few weeks have made me want to get back to playing in Leeds even more – just being back at the rink every day with the other players, being around the dressing room.
“It’s so refreshing to be back at it and it has renewed my love for the game again. With laying dormant for a year or more, you kind of move on and, like I have done, gone into the ‘real world’ and got a proper job.
“So the hockey has been sitting on the back burner but now I’ve been on the ice every day for the last five weeks it has just reignited everything and I’m back to feeling like I should be about the game again.”
Soon after Steve Nell announced he was taking over the running of the Elland Road-based Leeds team, Gospel was one of the first players to receive a call. He admits that he didn’t take any persuading.
“I’m really happy with what has been said so far by Steve about how things are going to go,” he added. “But I was probably already there because I knew I wanted to come back and carry on where I left off.
“Putting the results and where we finished to one side, I really enjoyed it with the Chiefs. I wanted to come back and prove a point to some degree, that with a more structured team we will be – I believe – be a more successful team.”
As for new team owner Nell, while he insists the majority of the roster will be put together by his yet-to-be-appointed first coach, he was keen to get some key pieces in place on which the new appointment could build.
“Sam’s a great lad, we had a good chat and agreed on a lot of different things,” said Nell.
“He didn’t need any convincing because I know he enjoyed his time here before so I’m pleased to have him in the bag.
“He was one of the stars for the Chiefs last season, we were obviously aware of his pedigree and that’s why I wanted to make him one of the first signings.
“It was important to get Sam signed up before somebody else signed him for next season, which they would have done.
“I also want to have some pieces of the jigsaw in place for the new coach to build from and Sam is a big piece of that.
“I don’t want to go ahead and just sign anybody, I don’t think that would be right – but a few key signings are necessary, the kind of players that any coach would want on their roster.”
Nell has held talks with other Chiefs’ players and is expected to meet others for discussions next week.
Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click HERE to subscribe.