Leeds Chiefs v Peterborough Phantoms - High praise for Gospel as Chiefs look to bridge gap
SAM GOSPEL says he is thriving on the responsibility of being No 1 netminder for Leeds Chiefs and is backing himself to help them make the NIHL National playoffs.
The Nottingham-born goalie has been the subject of regular praise and admiration from team-mates and opponents alike throughout the Chiefs’ debut campaign, one that has been beset by problems both on and off the ice, not least the fact that they are still waiting to even practice at their Elland Road rink.
Heading into tonight’s encounter at Peterborough Phantoms, the Chiefs sit bottom of the standings after 19 games, seven points adrift of Raiders IHC, who occupy the eighth and final play-off spot.
But, according to Gospel, there is little hint of panic, let alone concern, within the Chiefs’ locker room about their current situation.
And in Gospel they have a netminder who they can rely on night in, night out, with the 25-year-old boasting the fourth-highest save percentage (89.92) in the league in a season which has seen his goal peppered by an average of 39.11 shots per game – far more than any of his goaltending rivals.
Busy he may be, but it is a situation Gospel is more than comfortable with.
“It has been a tough few weeks,” said Gospel as the Chiefs head into tonight’s encounter on the back of a four-game losing streak. “We’ve obviously not had the results that we wanted but, on a personal level, I feel like I’m playing really well and enjoying it.
“It’s nice to have those games where you are not so busy but, so far, this season I’ve been kind of peppered with shots in every game – but I thrive off the pressure and responsibility so it’s good to be that guy again, the one that teams have to rely on.
“Obviously always being the bottom-placed team as we have been for a while, is not ideal but from a selfish point of view that kind of puts me in a position to excel.
“I like to crunch my own numbers and I’m a bit of a hockey nerd and this past weekend I came out with a 93.3 per cent save average so, personally, I’m playing well.
“But it is hard when we are struggling to put the puck in the net and it doesn’t help when we only have about 12 fit players, like last weekend.”
Up until last weekend the Chiefs had stayed relatively healthy, but injury and illness effectively robbed them of four bodies for the 3-0 defeat at Telford, and although two of those players returned to the line-up for the 4-2 defeat at Milton Keynes Lightning, another player was lost to injury for most of the night.
But despite the short-benched state of their roster last weekend, Gospel was heartened by the fact that the Chiefs remained competitive on both nights, fuelling his belief that the team assembled by player-coach Sam Zajac in the summer has what it takes to make the post-season.
“There are still going to be lots of twists and turns this season,” added Gospel. “In our room, the room is a very happy place. So far, from what I’ve seen in this league, anyone can beat anyone else on any given night.
“We all bounce off each other – it’s just a good place to be, aside from everything else. If we were in Leeds, for example, and everything was where it should be, it would obviously be fantastic.
“But regardless of that, whatever our home status may be, our room is still fantastic.”
The efforts of Gospel, who still trains with Nottingham Panthers during the week as well as Wednesday nights in Blackburn with the Chiefs, have not gone unnoticed, particularly by his coach.
“A lot of guys have obviously had good seasons for us, some guys stepping up a league and some of the older guys showing that they can still cut it at this level,” said Zajac. “But I think, hands down, Gossy has been the shining light for us.
“He’s seen a lot of pucks, more than we would ideally like him to see, and he has kept us in every game. We’re really happy with him and I can’t sing his praises highly enough - he has been great for us.”