Leeds Knights: Why goalie Sam Gospel is happy singing the praises of his team-mates
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Yes, some familiar faces never returned from last season. Yes, most of those ‘familiar faces’ were among the team’s most prolific scorers during a 2022-23 campaign that saw the Knights march relentlessly towards NIHL National league and play-off glory.
When the Knights saw their unbeaten start to 2023-24 curtailed at four games with a 5-3 defeat at Milton Keynes Lightning last Saturday - compared to the 11-game winning streak at the start of last season - there will have been little sympathy and more than a few ‘I told you so’s’.
The Knights are a marked team, have been since the very early stages of last season because of the aforementioned blistering start they enjoyed. There is no shortage of hockey fans keen for them to slip up this time around. And badly. It’s the nature of sport and fans.
But look at how the Knights turned around a 3-0 deficit at home to Peterborough Phantoms the previous week. Look at how they came from behind to win on the road against a Bees team who, going into the game, were also unbeaten.
Then look at Sunday’s 9-1 thrashing of Milton Keynes when the two teams met again less than 24 hours after their showdown in Buckinghamshire, this time at Elland Road Ice Arena.
It’s easy to understand why Gospel likes what he sees so far.
“There have been some questions asked about us as a group but, so far, we’ve answered the bell in impressive fashion,” says Gospel.
“Yes, we are a different group, we’ve lost some key guys but I believe we’ve picked up talent in other areas.
“In some respects, we’ve got less experience in a way, we’ve almost got younger. But this is a different type of team. We’re a hard-working group and we’re all in it together and I think that has shown so far - it is a different kind of Leeds Knights team to what we had last season, but it’s definitely a fun one to be a part of.
“I believe we’re a good team and we believe - as a group - that we can go a long way.”
Very much against hockey tradition, Gospel - as a goaltender - was named as one of the team’s alternate captains last week.
He may not physically get to wear an ‘A’ but, for some time now, the 29-year-old - who along with Ethan Hehir and Lewis Baldwin is one of just three original Leeds Chiefs players left - has been one of the most influential players in the Knights’ locker room.
Regarded by many as the league’s top netminder, Gospel has risen to that status having been in around the pro level of the British game since first being involved with hometown team Nottingham Panthers in 2011.
He knows what is required to be successful, both from a personal and team perspective. And he believes this crop of Knights players have plenty of promise.
“A big key for us was keeping that core group of players that have the same passion and drive to keep the team the same way,” added Gospel. “So we’re not changing the playbook or anything - we’re bringing the same attitude we had last year to this year and it’s infectious and we want to breed that mentality that we are a good hockey team and that we’re going to perform every night and be relentless, like we were at times last season.
“It’s about making sure that the new guys follow the same ethos that we adhered to last season and make sure that, as a group, we do it again this time around.”
“In that respect, it’s a case of so far, so good.”