Leeds Knights’ Jordan Griffin reaping benefits after making early, strong case for defence
HOCKEY coaches at rinks up and down the country will doubtless have seen it many, many times.
Give a young kid with half-decent skating ability a hockey stick and a puck and their primary desire will be to fire the latter into the back of the net. As many times as possible.
Not so, Leeds Knights’ latest signing, Jordan Griffin.
At an early stage in his junior career at Bradford Bulldogs, the youngster instinctively knew his future lay in defending his own team’s zone.
It has paid dividends, with the 19-year-old’s career so far having seen him represent Great Britain at Under-18 and Under-20 level, while at club level he has already been through a two-year apprenticeship with the Elite League’s Sheffield Steelers.
And while his time in South Yorkshire may not necessarily have garnered him the kind of top-flight ice time he would have hoped for, it will, in the long run, prove a crucial part of his development over the coming years.
His second year at the Steelers saw the majority of his game time come with neighbouring Sheffield Steeldogs during the inaugural season of the second-tier NIHL National league.
It may have been a campaign which only saw him turn 18 at the midway point, but proved to be one in which he showed he could compete with vastly more experienced, more skilled players.
In the next few weeks, Griffin will – along with all the other players on the Knights’ roster – come under the watchful gaze of incoming head coach and GM, Dave Whistle.
Whether it is a teenage prospect like Griffin, or a veteran like fellow defenceman Sam Zajac, all players are likely to benefit from working with Whistle, a coach possessing vast experience both in the UK and North America.
Andy Brown, Griffin’s head coach at Bradford, believes working under somebody like Whistle – who has already made it clear he wants offence from all over the ice – will be ideal in terms of the youngster’s development.
Brown, who is also GB Under-18 assistant coach, believes the Knights are putting together an exciting team for the 2021-22 season and expects the experience and wisdom of former Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils coach Whistle to rub off on all of his players, especially his younger charges.
“It will be great for Jordan at Leeds, just what he needs,” said Brown. “Dave Whistle is the right coach, the right man for that job. The team they are putting together looks like an exciting team, there’s going to be a lot of experience there, too, bringing Sammy Zajac back, for instance is a great move.
“Put Jordan with an experienced D-man like Sammy and Jordan is just going to be like a sponge and learn so much from him.
“Jordan is going to be a big lad – he’s already a big lad – and if he keeps on growing, he’ll have the size. He’ll definitely get the ice time he needs there.”
Having guided Griffin through his junior career, Brown then watched from a distance as the youngster served his time with the Steelers.
Despite not being kept on after his initial two-year deal, Brown believes – like the player himself – that Griffin’s time there will ultimately prove well-spent.
“Not many young kids want to become good strong defencemen, because it is a minority sport, most kids want to play forward and score goals,” added 43-year-old Brown.
“But Jordan was happy to take that role on at an early stage and committed himself to it which was really good.
“We probably don’t produce that many good defencemen in this country and he’s definitely one of them. There’s a bit less fun to being a D-man but, obviously, it is equally important.
“As coaches, we try to encourage kids, see where their potential is and try and channel them towards that area.
“Most kids don’t see that until a little bit later, but Jordan was very mature for his age, had a wise head on him and could see that path towards becoming a defenceman early on and committed himself to it and, credit to him, he did really well.
“I did wonder at the time whether it was the right decision for him to go off to the Steelers, but I know he did his best and he stuck to it. His ice time wasn’t huge but we understand that – that is the risk you take when you make those kind of decisions.
“Despite that, though, you can’t deny he hasn’t continued to develop as a player. Just spending time with those top-level players on a regular basis will only have benefitted him,
“He made the most of every opportunity he had there – he’s a worker and he’ll always graft and, wherever he plays, I believe he’ll do well.”