Leeds Chiefs’ netminder Sam Gospel keen to enjoy his time in Elite company
NETMINDER Sam Gospel intends to make the most of the opportunity handed to him by Manchester Storm in next month’s Elite Series.
The 26-year-old will be back on home ice from April 3 onwards with the behind-closed-doors tournament being held in his hometown at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre.
Gospel has been part of the Nottingham Panthers organisation since 2012, but has played most of his senior hockey elsewhere on two-way deals, the most recent of which saw him spend last season with Leeds Chiefs in the NIHL National league. He quickly became a firm favourite with the Chiefs’ fans and was voted the league’s goaltender of the season.
He was signed up to return for the 2020-21 season, but that was abandoned before it had even started due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Some NIHL National teams –including Sheffield Steeldogs –have since attained ‘elite status’, allowing them to both train and play competitive games, including last year’s Streaming Series and the ongoing Spring Cup which ends on March 28.
The day after, Gospel will join his new Manchester team-mates and coach Ryan Finnerty to begin preparing for the Elite Series, which faces off on April 3 and brings the Storm up against top-flight rivals Sheffield Steelers, Coventry Blaze and the Panthers.
Gospel was picked in last week’s Brit Draft by the Storm, joining former Great Britain No 1 netminder Stephen Murphy, who has played for the Belfast Giants since 2009.
With an import goalie also expected to be signed by the Storm for the tournament, Gospel is under no illusions as to where he is in the pecking order
But with 14 games in 26 days plus a best-of-three playoff final, there is little rest time, increasing the chances of Gospel seeing some overdue ice time.
“It will be great to be part of something like this, just to be back on the ice on a regular basis, if only for a few weeks,” said Gospel. “I’ll take my chance when it comes and push the other guys, whoever the import be and see how I go.
“Stephen Murphy is one of the greatest British goalies in recent times and it will be brilliant to learn from somebody like that – somebody with that much experience – I’m going to act like a sponge around him.
“I’ve been with Nottingham for a long time, so it will be good to experience a different Elite League team and a different coach. The more coaches you play under, it automatically broadens your horizons and makes you a better player.”
Gospel admitted he found the experience of being part of the unique ‘Brit-Draft’ enjoyable, with the four teams taking it in turn to select British players in addition to five they had already ‘protected’ enjoyable.
Forward Kieran Brown was the only other Chiefs’ player picked up in the Draft, selected by Nottingham
Gospel was initially picked 40th overall as part of a group of ‘taxi squad’ players affiliated to each team, there to provide cover for injuries or any Covid-related issues that may crop up. A few days later, team owners decided to add those players to the main rosters of each team.
“It was a bit nerve-wracking, if I’m being honest,” added Gospel. “But it was good fun and I think it worked really well – although after the 28th pick came and went I turned it off and found out later via a text message that I had been picked.
“I was impressed with the way the Draft worked, it seems to have served its purpose in terms of the British players and has made it a level playing field in that sense, although most of the imports are still to be announced.
“It’s good that they have now moved us all up to be part of the main squads. That makes me feel a lot better and it kind of solidifies it all. Hopefully, it means I’m going to get more of an opportunity to get involved on the playing side.”
Finnerty, former Steelers and Glasgow Clan coach, said he was looking forward to spending time on the ice with Gospel, considered by many to be the best goalie outside the Elite League.
“I know he has spent some time in the Elite League and I know a lot of people arguably think he’s the best goalie at the NIHL National level,” said Finnerty. “So when he was still available at that point of the Draft, it was a no-brainer for us.
“I’m excited to get to work with him in practice. It is a long stretch, a lot of games in not much time and I hope that we can get him some action.
“It will be good to watch him in practice and see how he is but I know he’s a great talent.”
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