Sheffield Steelers forward Brandon Whistle hoping to win race against time to be ready for Great Britain's 2026 Winter Olympics quest

ANY athlete will tell you, there is never a good time to pick up an injury. Often, it comes at exactly the wrong time.

It’s because Brandon Whistle was denied an competitive debut for Great Britain at the worst possible time last year that he is trying so desperately to ensure he can pull on the national team’s jersey in such an encounter in around 10 days’ time.

After an impressive 2022-23 campaign with Sheffield Steelers, Whistle was pushing hard and on course for a place in the GB squad to play the Division 1A World Championships last year.

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Then, in the final warm-up game against Hungary, disaster struck.

INTERNATIONAL CALLING: Sheffield Steelers' Brandon Whistle. Picture: Dean Woolley/Steelers MediaINTERNATIONAL CALLING: Sheffield Steelers' Brandon Whistle. Picture: Dean Woolley/Steelers Media
INTERNATIONAL CALLING: Sheffield Steelers' Brandon Whistle. Picture: Dean Woolley/Steelers Media

Whistle was checked into the boards from behind, forced to retire from the game and, with it, went his chances of stepping out at the National Ice Centre.

He doesn’t need any reminding that he missed a memorable few days in the East Midlands, as Pete Russell’s team secured a return to the top tier of the World Championships at the first attempt.

That challenge of facing-off against world-leading nations such as Canada, Finland and Czechia comes in May in Prague.

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Before that, however, is the small matter of qualification for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

DETERMINED: Sheffield Steelers' Brandon Whistle. Picture: Dean Woolley/Steelers MediaDETERMINED: Sheffield Steelers' Brandon Whistle. Picture: Dean Woolley/Steelers Media
DETERMINED: Sheffield Steelers' Brandon Whistle. Picture: Dean Woolley/Steelers Media

The first step on that road comes between February 8-11 at Cardiff’s Vindico Arena when GB takes on Romania, China and Serbia. Win the group and head coach Russell and his players move on to the final qualifying round in August.

Having so cruelly missed his opportunity 10 months ago, 26-year-old Whistle is even more determined to make his competitive debut in South Wales but, having seen the injury curse strike again, he knows he faces a race against time to make Cardiff.

Having recently undergone a routine operation to sort a lower-body injury that has kept him out of action since Boxing Day, Whistle has a narrow window of opportunity to prove his readiness.

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“It is going to be really tight,” admitted Canadian-born Whistle, son of former Steelers, Leeds Knights and Belfast Giants coach, Dave. “Ideally, I’d like to play for the Steelers first before I go off to GB but, at the same time, if GB happens to be my first game back then I really don’t want to miss that so I’ll still be going.

“That’s my goal, to make the GB team - everyone knows that I want to be back in time for that.”

If his hopes are shattered again through injury, focus will switch to the Czechia in May. Either way, last year’s disappointment is an additional motivating factor for the right-handed forward.

“It sucked, it was brutal,” added Whistle on the upper-body injury that robbed him of a chance to be picked for Nottingham. “I was depressed for a bit about it, but it happens. You just tell yourself that there is always next year, it couldn’t have come at a worse time to get hurt, but you just have to move on.”

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After a spell out earlier this season for the Steelers, Whistle has still managed to make an impact for Aaron Fox’s title favourites when not on the treatment table.

Last season saw Whistle post 25 points in 61 league, cup and play-off games, averaging just under a point every other game.

This season, with just 20 appearances under his belt due to injury, he has six goals and six assists, on average, 0.6 points per game.

It will be one reason why GB head coach Russell has come back for Whistle, even if there is a doubt over whether he will have recovered from his lower-body injury in time. It’s a sign of how highly he is valued.

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As for himself, Whistle places a high value on representing GB. Even more so with older brother Jackson - netminder at Belfast Giants - also being in the squad.

“It’s been my goal since I first came over from Canada and played for the Steelers in my first year back in 2018,” added Whistle. “I’ve been kind of up and down, and I’ve got myself back up to the Elite League and playing the way that I want to be playing.

“It’ll be huge for me when it happens. I think any time you can represent GB or put your country’s flag on is pretty special.

“To do it with my brother on the team as well, that will be a pretty cool moment to share with him - I don’t know how many brothers can say they have done that.”