Sheffield Steelers strike two-way deal with Leeds Knights for goaltender

SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ head coach Aaron Fox believes a new two-way deal with Leeds Knights for Ben Churchfield will be ideal for the back-up goaltender’s development.

GAME TIME: Sheffield Steelers' goalie Ben Churchfield is expected to go straight in net for Leeds Knights to face Sheffield Steeldogs on Friday niht. Picture: Dean Woolley.

The 25-year-old first played for the Steelers during the behind-closed-doors Elite Series in Nottingham earlier this year, but has found ice time rare since the start of the 2021-22 Elite League campaign.

So far, he has played just 20 minutes in a 5-3 win over Manchester Storm in the Challenge Cup, the rest of his time spent as back-up to either of Steelers’ import goalies, Barry Brust or Rok Stojanovic.

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Churchfield is expected to go straight into action for the Knights in tonight’s Autumn Cup encounter with Sheffield Steeldogs at Ice Sheffield, allowing Leeds head coach Dave Whistle the opportunity to give first-choice Sam Gospel a deserved night off.

Sheffield Steelers' goaltender, Ben Churchfield

“There’s a benefit for everybody,” said Fox. “We feel Ben is still going to be a good goalie and this is another way to help his development and get some game time on a good team instead of having to just back-up like he currently is with us.

“We agreed on a two-way deal that will allow him to continue to practice with us full-time and also play some games with Leeds when they want to give Sam Gospel a night off.

“So it’s a perfect situation and there has been a good relationship there so far with Cole Shudra and Brandon Whistle and this just made a ton of sense for us.

“Ben works his butt off every day in practice, but that game experience isn’t something you can mimic in practice.”

Sheffield Steelers' head coach Aaron Fox Picture: Dean Woolley/Steelers Media

Whistle, who was head coach of the Steelers during the 2005-06 season and who coached Belfast Giants and Bracknell Bees to the Superleague championship earlier in his career, said the deal gave him flexibility when looking to give Gospel some rest time.

“The Steelers have their two import goalies so Ben’s having a hard time getting game time,” said Whistle. “It’s a great opportunity for him and a great opportunity for us to bring in another goalie who can give Sammy (Gospel) a little break.

“We have Harrison Walker and Jacob Hammond, too, and it is nice to have all three options as they all have different schedules with their parent clubs and, that way, we can hopefully work things around and never be short on goaltending.”

The deal is further evidence of the growing working relationship between the Steelers and Leeds, with other, two-way deals already in place for Cole Shudra and Brandon Whistle.

All three are likely to come up against another Steelers’ employee on Friday night in the shape of Alex Graham, who is back in the UK after being released by the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs and on another two-way deal with the Steeldogs.