Curtis Warburton: Sheffield Steelers teen takes his hat off to 'rival' club netminder Ben Churchfield

There can't be many professional athletes as sporting in attitude as Curtis Warburton.

Thursday, 26th August 2021, 8:42 am

At 19 years old, he is tipped by many to become one of Britain's top ice hockey netminders.

Some even thought he might challenge Ben Churchfield for the number two spot at Sheffield Steelers this coming season - after all, he caught the eye in the recent Elite Series and possesses most of the tools needed to launch an exciting career.

Instead, he has chosen to play in a two-way deal for NIHL club The Bees IHC, in Slough, where he will be guaranteed minutes on the ice, which should develop him more quickly.

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At the same time, the son of Rotherham genuinely hopes that Churchfield, 25, will be a roaring success at Steelers.

Warburton says he respects all the goaltenders that have helped him along the path so far, and Churchfield is certainly one of them.

"He has been an amazing guy for me," says the teenager from Whiston.

"Over the Elite Series, even when I was playing, he was just the best guy, he was unbelievable.

Curtis Warburton making it look easy.

"After practice me and him would be the last guys off, he would be working with me loads and helping me refine my game and make me better as a goalie. He was unreal to work with, a proper team guy.

"If I needed any help I would ask him and straight away he'd give me the answer. We talked about particular plays and how he would approach them.

"For sure I hope he does well in Sheffield. People there will love him."

Warburton has studied the former Bawtry resident's own netminding style, as Churchfield played more games in the EIHL mini-series than expected after injury to the then-number one John Muse.

Churchfield in warm-up.

"In his rookie year Churchy came in and wasn't expected to play as many games as he did; he was thrown in at the deep end against Nottingham Panthers.

"He showed he is a really good goalie, moves really well, he's really technically sound."

How does his own style compare?

"I am bigger, so I play different," said Warburton. "He plays a little more aggressive than me but, really, it is tough to say.

"You can't compare, because we are at different stages in our career. I am only just starting."

Warburton, who studied at Oakwood High School, Rotherham before moving to the University Technical College at Sheffield's Olympic Legacy Park, says several Steeler goalies of the past have aided him.

"I have had practice sessions with Tomas Duba, Muse and Moose (Ervins Muštukovs.)

"I've spent the most time with Duba, a full year with him. After practice, he'd work with me for up to an hour - even on a Friday before a game that he was going to be starting goalie!

"That meant so much to me. I think Duba is one of the big factors behind improving my game.

"Muse would help even when he was injured; he had loads of drills with me, just to work on my hands make them a bit quicker.

"I have taken things from all their games."

Now 6ft 2ins Warburton plans to closely observe Sheffield's newly signed number one Barry Brust.

"His CV is crazy. He spent a lot of years in the KHL, where he posted good numbers. He is a bIgger guy so someone I could emulate."