Leeds Knights tick all the boxes for former Sheffield Steelers defenceman Jordan Griffin
HAVING had a brief taste of life in the Elite League, Jordan Griffin last year felt coming to Leeds was the best place for him to start making his way back to playing in the UK game’s top tier.
Nine months on, his view hasn’t changed.
The 19-year-old today becomes the third defenceman signed by Leeds Knights for the 2021-22 NIHL National season, ensuring a reunion with a number of faces that have become very familiar in recent weeks.
Three of those ‘faces’ have already been announced by the Knights in the shape of fellow defenceman Lewis Baldwin and forwards Kieran Brown and Joe Coulter.
All have been playing alongside Griffin for Widnes Wild in recent months, a spell which culminated in the Cheshire club lifting the NIHL One Playoff title at Ice Sheffield on Sunday, when they defeated Sheffield Scimitars 7-4.
For Griffin, icing for the Wild over the last three and a half months or so has proved a welcome relief, given the frustrations of being kept off the ice through the various UK lockdowns brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
The fact Widnes and the three other teams involved in South Yorkshire at the weekend – Scimitars, Slough Jets and MK Thunder – were the first teams to play in front of paying fans since March last year, was another significant step forward for the sport.
And that is something Griffin – who has represented GB at Under-18 and Under-20 level – is keen to experience again at Elland Road Ice Arena come early September when the Knights and their nine league rivals hope to get their 2021-22 season up and running.
Having come through the Bradford Bulldogs junior system, Griffin was offered a two-year apprenticeship deal by Elite League’s Sheffield Steelers.
But the departure of the head coach who signed him – Paul Thompson – early in his first season at the club, saw Griffin find ice time hard to come by.
By spending the majority of his second year with neighbouring Sheffield Steeldogs in NIHL National, however, he flourished.
Such a promising campaign at Ice Sheffield under player-coach Ben Morgan was cut short by the pandemic, though, and, a few months later, Griffin knew, after his release by the Steelers, that his immediate future remained in the second tier, but with Leeds as his preferred option.
That 2020-21 season was subsequently cancelled because of the continuing pandemic and, although no longer known as the Chiefs, when Griffin does finally step out in Leeds colours, he knows he will be in the right place.
“It has been a frustrating time in terms of the hockey, but then it has been a far from ideal time for everybody,” said Griffin.
“Last year with the Chiefs, was meant to be my first full season of playing seniors after having turned 18, so for that not to happen was frustrating.
“But a few of us eventually managed to get ice time with Widnes which helped keep us going and it was great to end our time there by beating Sheffield on Sunday.
“It wasn’t the same level as what a lot of us had been playing the previous season, but a lot of people have not been able to play at all. We just have to make sure that we make up for all the lost time by having a good season this year.”
Like all of the Knights’ players announced so far, Griffin is yet to meet up with new head coach and GM Dave Whistle, who arrives in the UK early next month. But after meeting with team owner Steve Nell, Griffin was quickly convinced the decision he first made nine months ago to come to Leeds was stillthe right one.
“It was an easy choice for me to stay with Leeds,” added Griffin. “The potential of the team is one of the big attractions for me. Steve has come in with the intention of building a team that can win. For him it is obviously a business, he’s going to want to put together a good team.
“The other players on board, such as Kieran and Lewis, is another attraction for me. When you know people on the team and how they play, it helps.”
With Whistle having spent his more recent years coaching youngsters back home in Canada, Griffin is hoping he too feels the benefit of working with Whistle.
“It’s definitely something I hope will be a good thing for someone like myself,” he said.
“I do want to play in the Elite League again one day and although it didn’t go as well as I would have liked it to, having been with the Steelers for those two years, being around that environment and the training, seeing how people act and what it takes to play at that level, it’s something that stays with you as a young player and is crucial for your development.”
Team owner Nell said Griffin was the kind of young, hungry player the Knights were keen to attract and a youngster they would be happy to help develop and see go off the bigger things elsewhere in a few years’ time.
“Jordan is a young up-and-coming player, he has been a good solid D-man in the national team programmes through the various age groups, a very good signing for us,” said Nell. “When I met with him for the first time, I liked him straightaway, I liked the way he carried himself and it was an easy decision to make.
“Dave Whistle will help Jordan develop his game further. He’s still a very young player and we hope to get the best out of him and, all being well, we’ll see him grow and if that means he progresses beyond Leeds eventually and back into an Elite League team, then that is great for everyone and we’d be happy with that.”
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