Sheffield Steelers coach Aaron Fox says no other teams have anyone comparable to new signing Ben Churchfield
Steelers' coach Aaron Fox thinks he has stolen a march on every other EIHL club with the signing of backup netminder Ben Churchfield.
The former Sheffield Scorpions prospect, who has been playing and studying at the University of New England in America, is returning to the city to understudy whoever dons the starting jersey.
The 24-year-old, who will complete his studies at Hallam University, is undoubtedly a top prospect - but Fox thinks he could already be ready for EIHL action, if and when the season starts.
"I will be giving him plenty of games," Fox told The Star. "I have watched him a lot and I don't think any other EIHL team, back-up wise, will have anybody comparable."
His uni team plays at NCAA 111 level and Fox compared Churchfield's background with that of Kevin Carr, who played for Nottingham Panthers last season. He started off at Buffalo State College in the same league programme.
"He has a traditional butterfly style, moves well, covers all the angles, plays the puck well - I was quite surprised when I watched the tapes.
"His numbers have been exceptional over the last two years. He will develop but is already at the EIHL now, definitely."
Last year, Fox started Sheffield's season with two established import goaltenders.
The signing of a player likely to be on a more modest pay grade is in keeping with the current financial situation facing UK clubs - they don't know when or if the campaign will start.
Fox, though, remains optimistic, even if social distancing continues into the new year.
"I still think a December start is a viable option.
"Some stuff is going to have to open up for sporting and other reasons over the next few weeks, maybe limited capacities and (fans wearing) face masks will come in. Limiting a capacity cannot be severe or it wouldn't work but maybe we could start with 4,500 fans at our rink and the smaller ones can reduce (fan numbers) in percentage terms.
"I think it is important for a lot of different reasons that sport is not put on the back burner. There are some obstacles to cross but if we have to start in January, we'll start in January!"
Steelers were flying in players this time this year and beginning their pre-season tests and preparation.
Fox reckons they could boil down their pre-season to a week if necessary.
Although the ownership will need six or seven weeks more than that to meet all the relevant paperwork requirements.
New Steelers' goalie Churchfield has fond memories of his early ice hockey life at iceSheffield.
“I spent the first few years of my life in Sheffield and then after time away returned. By that time, I had fallen in love with hockey and almost lived inside iceSheffield," he said.
“I watched the Steelers from high up at the arena, the likes of Dowdy (Robert Dowd) and Jonathan Phillips were the guys I really looked up to – I even helped Dowdy coach the best of British kids at a hockey school some years later.
"Being in Sheffield and working with guys like that is a huge plus for me in joining the Steelers.
“I’ve stayed in touch with many people in Sheffield, Danny Mawer, the club’s fitness coach being one of them.
"I’m grateful he told Aaron Fox about me and the Steelers showed an interest. The club has treated me very well in our conversations to date, they seem genuinely interested in me and my hockey development and I am super excited to get over to the UK when the season starts.”