Leeds Knights and Sheffield Steelers agree two-way deal for goalie Ben Churchfield

LEEDS KNIGHTS have agreed a two-way deal with Elite League outfit Sheffield Steelers for netminder Ben Churchfield.
Ben Churchfield, seen in action for Sheffield Steelers during the Elite Series in Nottingham earlier this year. Picture: Dean Woolley.Ben Churchfield, seen in action for Sheffield Steelers during the Elite Series in Nottingham earlier this year. Picture: Dean Woolley.
Ben Churchfield, seen in action for Sheffield Steelers during the Elite Series in Nottingham earlier this year. Picture: Dean Woolley.

It’s expected that the 25-year-old will start in goal for the Knights in Friday night’s Autumn Cup clash at Sheffield Steeldogs, giving No 1 goalie Sam Gospel a well-earned night off.

Churchfield is currently back-up for the Steelers, who are running with two import goalies this season. But Steelers’ head coach Aaron Fox is keen to get some game time into the young British goalie, who first starred for the South Yorkshire club during this year’s behind-closed-doors Elite Series in Nottingham.

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The deal means Churchfield now provides a third back-up option for Knights’ head coach Dave Whistle, with Harrison Walker and Jacob Hammond also on two-way deals with their respective clubs Widnes Wild and Billingham Stars.

STRAIGHT IN: Ben Churchfield is expected to go straight in net for Leeds Knights to face Sheffield Steeldogs on Friday night.STRAIGHT IN: Ben Churchfield is expected to go straight in net for Leeds Knights to face Sheffield Steeldogs on Friday night.
STRAIGHT IN: Ben Churchfield is expected to go straight in net for Leeds Knights to face Sheffield Steeldogs on Friday night.

“The Steelers have their two import goalies so Ben’s having a hard time getting game time,” said Whistle. “It’s a great opportunity for him and a great opportunity for us to bring in another goalie who can give Sammy (Gospel) a little break.

“We have Harrison and Jacob, too, and it is nice to have all three options as they all have different schedules with their parent clubs and, hopefully, that way, we can work things around and never be short on goaltending.”

Whistle has been delighted with the performances of Gospel so far this season, but is keen for the 27-year-old to be given nights off wherever possible, if only to prevent the kind of injury which could hurt the Knights’ hopes of silverware.

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“Sam understands he can’t play every single minute of the season,” added Whistle. “That is hard on anyone’s body, particularly goalies. The way he plays, his movements are so fast, he can push so fast, that you can play too many minutes.

REST EASY: Sam Gospel has been an ever-present for Leeds Knights this season. 

Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft/Swindon WildcatsREST EASY: Sam Gospel has been an ever-present for Leeds Knights this season. 

Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft/Swindon Wildcats
REST EASY: Sam Gospel has been an ever-present for Leeds Knights this season. Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft/Swindon Wildcats

“And when you do, you get a little tired and then all of a sudden you pull a groin or something - and you don’t want to have a lingering groin injury, especially if you’re a goalie.

“So we needed to take a look at what was good for the team and also what was good for Sam. If he can play 75-80 per cent of our games, it keeps him fresher and the other guys can fill in as and when needed. We now have various options which is what we were after.”

Steelers’ boss Fox said the deal with Leeds would be ideal for Churchfield’s development.

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Churchfield logged plenty of game time during the Elite Series but, so far this season, has only played 20 minutes in a 5-3 win over Manchester Storm in the Challenge Cup, the Steelers preferring to alternate between import goalies Barry Brust and Rok Stojanovic.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach Aaron Fox. Picture: Dean Woolley/Steelers MediaSheffield Steelers' head coach Aaron Fox. Picture: Dean Woolley/Steelers Media
Sheffield Steelers' head coach Aaron Fox. Picture: Dean Woolley/Steelers Media

“There’s a benefit for everybody,” said Fox. “We feel Ben is still going to be a good goalie and this is another way to help his development and get some game time on a good team instead of having to just back-up like he currently is with us.

“We agreed on a two-way deal that will allow him to continue to practice with us full-time and also play some games with Leeds when they want to give Sam Gospel a night off.”