The Elite Series has thrown up some interesting talking points so far, but one storyline that’s emerged in the last few days is the tale of two goalies.
One has been on top of his game for years, winning trophies, gaining worldwide recognition for his work between the pipes, but has suffered a strange season in many regards.
The other was seen as a young prospect, brought in by his new club before the suspension of the season and since being thrust into the action, has played a prominent role in his team’s success so far.
We’re talking Ben Bowns and Ben Churchfield and their contrasting fortunes so far in this competition.
If this tournament has given national coach Pete Russell anything, it may be some food for thought when he starts to weigh up his team for the World Championships, especially in the position where GB has been strong for a few years now.
It’s completely out of the question to contemplate that Russell would consider leaving Bowns out of his party for Latvia. When it comes to the national team, he has never let his team or his country down.
It’s been a season that has certainly been, at times, troubling for Bowns when he earned his move to Graz in the Bet-At-Home League, but found himself sidelined due to a serious injury for much of it.
For a player in that position used to playing more or less every game and considering the injury he had, which was a serious knee problem, it’s fair to say he’s had to take some time to find his level again.
Panthers fans were rightfully excited when Ben Bowns was their number one draft pick, something they exchanged with Manchester Storm and with Jackson Whistle already on board as a ‘Protected Player’, maybe they felt that protection of having Whistle there gave them sufficient insurance after such a serious injury.
We all know that on any given night, Bowns has almost single-handedly won games with his performances in the past so to write him off is something you can never do.
Bowns certainly had a night to forget on Saturday when he played the first period only of Panthers’ heavy 8-4 loss to Sheffield Steelers. Losing three in the opening three minutes, followed by two more before the end of the session always meant it could end up an early night for him.
What was even more interesting was Tim Wallace’s comments post game when he said: “Bownsy’s got something going on with him so hopefully he’s okay.”
At the time, there was an assumption there was maybe some niggly injury or an ongoing minor concern from his knee that’s prevented him from reaching the high standard he’s set himself.
It’s since been established he’d been feeling unwell and was very much on the mend and keen to get back to action.
We’ll definitely see how the GB netminder bounces back in future games. We know he will with the Worlds coming soon.
Then we have Churchfield, a relative new kid on the block, who has come into the side, largely due to the unfortunate injury to John Muse in Steelers’ first game against Panthers and has impressed so far.
Steelers coach Aaron Fox has highlighted that a lot has been asked of him so far in having to play the amount of minutes he’s had, but will be hugely proud at how he’s handled the situation thrust upon him.
Churchfield returned to Sheffield after starting out in the junior systems, moving to North America and most recently featured for University of New England in the NCAA, where he played for three years.
His signing for Steelers was announced in August, a month before the Elite League scrapped the season because of the coronavirus so he’s had to bide his time before getting the chance to show Steelers and Fox what he can do.
“I love our group,” Fox said in a press conference after the Coventry game. “I think we’re asking a lot from a first year pro coming out of college in North America to hold things together for us back, but we have a very confident guy in Ben Churchfield.
“I think every game that goes by, he’ll settle in there without John Muse, but we have Curtis (Warburton) as our back-up too so I definitely love the group we have.”
He’s continued to do well for Steelers and has an experienced group of D-men capable of talking him through games, not to mention Muse will be helping him off ice as well as he racks up the minutes.
It’s certainly fair to say he’s been a surprise hit since stepping up and no doubt, will be watched closely by GB coach Pete Russell as he starts to pencil names into his list for Latvia.
You have to make the assumption that Bowns and Whistle will be the top two netminders who’ll make the trip, but the third goalie slot is up for grabs.
At this moment in time, that has to be between Churchfield and Coventry’s Jordan Hedley, who has been given a chance to shine in deputising for Shane Owen.
However, with more game time under his belt, the Steelers man could be more favoured for that reason and with Muse likely to be out for another week, Churchfield has one, maybe two games to firm up that claim for a seat on the plane.