How Sheffield Steelers’ netminder Ben Churchfield is learning to adapt fast to life at higher level

Netminder Ben Churchfield admits he is having to learn on the job quickly as he adjusts to the demands of life as a pro.

NOT TONIGHT: Ben Churchfield turns away Christophe Boivin's penalty shot for Nottingham Panthers in the 57th minute to enable Steelers to prevail 3-2. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

The 25-year-old has found himself thrown in at the deep end after an injury sustained by first-choice goalie John Muse in Saturday’s opening night Elite Series win over Nottingham Panthers.

After a frenetic start which saw two early goals fly past him, Churchfield rallied in the third period, even turning away a penalty shot, as the Steelers began their campaign with a 3-2 victory.

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But Churchfield and the Steelers were stung late on less than 24 hours later at the National Ice Centre when a last-minute strike by Maxime Fortier saw them edged out 5-4 by Manchester Storm.

FLAT OUT: Ben Churchfield keeps out the puck during sunday's 5-4 loss to Manchester Storm. Picture: Dean Woolley.

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Wednesday night sees the Steelers look to bounce back against Coventry Blaze (face-off 7pm), with Churchfield keen to show he can be relied on to back-stop his team to success.

“It’s obviously a big change for me,” said Churchfield, who signed his first professional contract with the Steelers last summer but, because of the pandemic, had to wait until the weekend in Nottingham to make his debut.

“I’m playing with men now, playing with professionals and this is their job, so it’s definitely another step up for me and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to achieve.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Aaron Fox. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“I know I can play at this level, I’ve just got to get a couple more wins under my belt and get some confidence rolling and show this team what I can do for them.

“It has been a week of firsts for me - my first week as a pro, first week back in Sheffield and first week playing in the Elite League. It is a great league and played at a great pace, so it has taken a little bit to get used to everything and I can only try and adapt as fast as I can and bring my performance up to par.”

Churchfield came through the Sheffield academy system before heading to North America to further his skills, eventually landing at the University of New England where he played three years in NCAA III, his performances and stats impressing Steelers’ head coach enough to sign him up last August, helping the North Shields-born goalie to realise a dream of playing for the team he grew up watching from the Sheffield Arena stands.

And, ever since his career with the Steelers effectively started for real with the start of last week’s training camp at Ice Sheffield, Churchfield has been determined to follow the example set by the players he used to cheer on from the side.

“What’s really special about here in Sheffield is the group of British players that have been here for so long,” added Churchfield. “They are so close as a unit, Jonno Phillips, Davey Phillips, Robert Dowd, Liam Kirk – they are the nucleus of this team and such nice guys and have such outgoing personalities that they have done such a great job of bringing everybody in here.”

“We’re only going to get better and better with each week and be a team that will build off our chemistry and our closeness with each other – it’s going to be a really big strength of ours.

“I’m basically doing my best impression as a sponge right now. I’m looking at everything they are doing in and out of the rink, before, during and after practise, during the game. I’m always talking to those guys and getting a feed off them and what they are feeling and thinking because they obviously have a great blueprint for success in this league.
“That is something that I can only hope to emulate and you just want to do right by those guys.”

With no clear indication on when goaltending partner Muse will be fit to play again, Churchfield could find himself handed a great opportunity to showcase his quality for a number of games to come.

Both the goalie and his head coach acknowledged there were a couple of goals Churchfield would probably want back from Sunday’s defeat to the Storm, but Fox didn’t sign him up last August to serve as a bench warmer.

“He’s a young goalie and we’re putting a lot on his shoulders at the moment,” said Fox. “I know he is a confident man and is looking forward to the challenge and it should be a good test for him.”

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