Leeds Chiefs can help former Sheffield Steelers defenceman Jordan Griffin realise his Elite League ambitions

HIS time with Sheffield Steelers may not have ended the way he would have wanted, but Leeds Chiefs’ Jordan Griffin still retains the ambition to make it at Elite League level.

HIGH AMBITIONS: Defenceman Jordan Griffin, right, in action for Sheffield Steelers. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.
HIGH AMBITIONS: Defenceman Jordan Griffin, right, in action for Sheffield Steelers. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

Steelers’ head coach Aaron Fox confirmed at the beginning of July that Griffin was not being asked back for a third season with the Steelers, his two-year apprenticeship having ended, with the earlier-than-expected close of the 2019-20 EIHL campaign brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

There was talk of him returning for a second season at Sheffield Steeldogs, having spent last season impressing at the NIHL National outfit on a two-way deal from the Steelers.

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But Sam Zajac confirmed on Tuesday night that the 18-year-old defenceman would in fact be heading to Steeldogs’ divisional rivals in West Yorkshire, taking him back close to where he spent his junior career with Bradford Bulldogs.

BRIGHT FUTURE: Jordan Griffin, right, spent last season playing for LEeds Chiefs' NIHL National rivals Sheffield Steeldogs on a two-way deal. Picture courtesy of Cerys Molloy.

After a difficult inaugural season for the Chiefs, optimism is high for their chances of being a more competitive force whenever the 2020-21 campaign is given the green light to face-off, which will be wholly dependent on whether current lockdown restrictions are lifted or, at the very least, eased.

Griffin, who made two Challenge Cup appearances for the Steelers last season, became the sixth name on Zajac’s roster, joining the Chiefs’ player-coach, goaltender Sam Gospel, fellow D-man Lewis Baldwin and forwards Joe Coulter and Kieran Brown.

Familiar faces – particularly in the shape of fellow Bradford juniors Baldwin and Brown – will help make the transition for Griffin a smooth one, as will having a season of NIHL National hockey under his belt.

Griffin, who spent the first year of his apprenticeship at Steelers on a two-way with Sutton Sting, admitted the step up to the new NIHL National was a significant one, but one he was able to adapt to.

HELPING HAND: Leeds Chiefs' player-coach Sam Zajac Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss.

“At the start of last season the league did seem quite fast – when compared to the year before at Sutton,” said Griffin. “It was faster and the players were better and more skilful.

“But getting as much ice time as I did at Steeldogs was only going to help my development. You have to adapt to wherever you are and, last season, I felt after around the Christmas period I was more settled and felt like I was playing well and able to deal with whatever was thrown at me.”

While there were initial talks between Griffin and the Steeldogs, Chiefs’ player-coach Zajac moved quickly to acquire Griffin’s services, the youngster impressed by the intentions of the new club.

“It sounded like Sam was putting together a strong team and from what he said to me and how he wanted his team to play, I felt like I would fit into that quite well,” added Griffin.

FAMILIAR FACE: Jordan Griffin's fellow Leeds chiefs' defenceman, Lewis Baldwin, also came through the Bradford Bulldogs' junior system. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“Each season I’m trying to get better and, hopefully, I can work my way up to the Elite League in a few years. That ultimately is the target for where I want to get to, it might take a few years but that’s the aim.”

Zajac has often said that while the Chiefs remain in the second tier of the British game, he is happy to help youngsters come in and develop their game to the extent where they could then move on and nail down an Elite League roster spot.

“Jordan has loads of potential,” said Zajac. “If we can get two or three good years out of him and he gets to his early 20s and we start getting phone calls from teams in bigger leagues then we’d be delighted for him.

“We’re more than happy to be that stepping stone for guys who want to move up, if we can help them on that journey we’re more than happy to do so.”