Leeds Knights goalie Sam Gospel gets back in the game to help them make net gains

HE may have more than 200 senior games to his name, but that didn’t stop Sam Gospel feeling a touch apprehensive when he finally got back between the pipes for Leeds Knights last Friday.

By Phil Harrison
Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 6:45 am
Leeds Knights first-choice netminder Sam Gospel missed eight games and four weeks dur to injury, returning last Friday to help them beat Sheffield Steeldogs 2-1 at Ice Sheffield. Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft - Swindon Wildcats
Leeds Knights first-choice netminder Sam Gospel missed eight games and four weeks dur to injury, returning last Friday to help them beat Sheffield Steeldogs 2-1 at Ice Sheffield. Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft - Swindon Wildcats

In all, the 27-year-old goaltender had missed eight games because of a hamstring injury, the longest he’d ever been forced to watch from the sidelines as a player other than when he suffered a concussion early in his career.

Ultimately, it was to prove a successful night for both Gospel and his team-mates, emerging 2-1 winners against Sheffield Steeldogs in a game which went against type for both teams, each regarded as being among the most attacking in NIHL National but neither being able to find a way on to the scoreboard until the last seven minutes of the game.

That was partly because both goalies were in top form on the night, Gospel going save-for-save with Dmitri Zimozdra, turning away 33 of the 34 shots on his goal, while his opposite number saved 29 from 31.

Sam Gospel, in action for Leeds Chiefs at Telford Tigers in November 2019. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

The following night, Leeds went down 3-2 in overtime at home to Raiders IHC, another game that was nip and tuck throughout but again one in which the goalies impressed, Gospel being well-matched by rival Ethan James.

Overall, it meant three points for Leeds and, for Gospel, a swift return to the kind of form that has made many people following the second tier come to regard him as the best goalie at that level.

Most importantly, though, the Nottingham-born netminder suffered no relapse from the hamstring issue that had proved so troublesome over the previous four weeks.

“I was just so glad to be back playing again and, on a personal level, happy that I had a good weekend,” said Gospel.

Sam Gospel, far right, in his reeturn to action after missing eight games through injury, helping Leeds Knights win 2-1 at Sheffield Steeldogs. Picture courtesy of Steeldogs Media.

“I felt like I spent the whole Sheffield game being conscious of how I was moving but it obviously worked out okay on the night. So I was a bit apprehensive as I just wanted to make sure I got a good game under my belt.

“It is such a relief to put that period behind me. I’ve obviously been itching to get back on the ice, pretty much as soon as I got hurt. Nobody likes sitting in the stands watching their team-mates, so I’m glad I came back and did alright.”

The fact his first game back was against a team who at the time were sitting top of the NIHL National standings and the encounter was on their home pad, probably only added to any apprehension Gospel may have been feeling.

But, much like in the Autumn Cup semi-final first leg encounter there when the Knights came away with a 3-1 win, it was another defensively-minded team performance that ensured what was only a second win in nine league games for Dave Whistle’s team.

GET DOWN: Sam Gospel, in action against Swindon Wildcats at the start of the season. Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft/Wildcats Media.

“I’d watched the live stream of the semi-final game in Sheffield and I was really impressed with the way the boys had played,” added Gospel.

“And it was nice that they gave me an easier night than I was expecting when I came back on Friday – especially with Sheffield’s firepower.

“The Steeldogs are a good team and they are top for a reason, so I was happy we came together so well as a group.”

Despite the setback the following night at home to Raiders – a game Gospel feels the Knights should have won – there is a growing feeling that Leeds, with some players back from injury and more set to become available again in the near future, are getting back to the kind of form which they showed at the very start of the season, when they won their first six games.

“As a team we do feel things are slowly coming together again,” explained Gospel. “Any time you can get injured players back in the line-up is a massive plus. We’re not a strong team in terms of numbers, so it’s nice when we can get guys back.

“The idea is to get back to how we were at the start of the season. Once we find that early-season form again and get back to the way we can play, we’ll be a much happier group.”