PAUL THOMPSON believes Jackson Whistle’s best years are ahead of him after enticing the netminder to switch from Elite League rivals Belfast Giants to Sheffield Steelers.
The 22-year-old – son of former Steelers’ head coach Dave Whistle – has signed a two-year deal with the five-time EIHL champions, with younger brother Brandon, who plays at centre, also joining for the same length of time.
“Jackson’s best years are ahead of him, he is a goalie on the rise,” said Steelers' head coach Thompson of a goalie who was Ben Bowns’s No 2 in Great Britain’s recent gold-medal winning promotion at the world championships in Budapest.
Whistle came in for his international debut despite being born in Canada, where he spent his early career playing for hometown team Kelowna in the WHL.
A move to the UK came in 2016 with a switch to Belfast where he started out as understudy to the long-serving Stephen Murphy. But after the GB international injured his shoulder, Whistle stepped up to be No 1 netminder for the majority of the 2017-18 campaign, back-stopping the Giants to a Challenge Cup triumph over Cardiff Devils.
Thompson came under fire from some Steelers' fans when he opted not to bring popular netminder Ervins Mustukovs back at the end of the 2017-18 season, the Latvian one of nine imports not retained after a trophyless campaign.
As a result, the Steelers will go through their biggest summer rebuild in a number of years, with netminder Whistle the first piece of a new-look jigsaw.
"Jackson is the first of many young and exciting signings we will be making this summer," added Thompson, who has already announced the retention of British contingent Jonathan Phillips, Rob Dowd, David Phillips, Ben O'Connor, Kieran Brown and back-up netminder Brad Day.
“Jackson has shown his talents off well with the Giants. His performances over the two years against the Steelers were one the main reasons Belfast had the success against us that they did.
“His British status opens up opportunities elsewhere in the line-up and gives us certain advantages. I like that he comes to work every day and works his backside off, that hard work can be infectious around the team.
“Jackson is replacing a very good goalie in Moose (Mustukovs) - but in Jackson we have signed a very good goalie."
After completing his junior career in the British Columbia Hockey League, Whistle's younger brother Brandon will help fill the gap left by Steelers' apprentice Liam Kirk, who is expected to take part in the NHL Entry Draft in Dallas next month and is destined to spend next season in North America in some shape or form.
“With us losing Liam this is a great opportunity for young Brandon to start his professional career,” said Thompson. “He is a big kid with a good upside. He will get his opportunities with us. He is a project that we will work hard with.”