Teenage goalie stakes claim for Sheffield Steelers' place

Nineteen year old Curtis Warburton has made a case to be starting goaltender for Sheffield Steelers in Sunday's game against Manchester Storm.

Saturday, 17th April 2021, 7:09 am
Chris Warburton

He was brought into the Steelers' goal at 3-0 down against Nottingham Panthers on Friday and performed well, despite the eventual 4-3 defeat.

Warburton took over goaltending duties from Ben Churchfield, who had been left exposed by his defending skaters.

Warburton, a Sheffield Scimitars' prospect, played 44 minutes and made 16 saves.

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He and Josef Mikyska were the brightest spots of the evening.

Coach Aaron Fox explained his decision to hook Churchfield at 12:48 saying: "We needed a change of momentum, Curtis practiced with us all last year, he has had a really good camp, he came in and played some really solid hockey for us there. I am proud of the kid.

"I felt the players stepped up for him and played a little bit better for Curtis than they did with Ben."

Fox said he didn't fear putting a teenager in net for the EIHL game could backfire on him and his side.

Josef Mikyska

At 3-0 down his side were "already swimming the wrong way so it was just 'let's see what Curtis can do' " said Fox.

He added it wouldn't have mattered if they had lost 7-0 or 4-3 with Warburton between the posts: a loss is a loss, he said.

Asked whether Warburton could continue in goal this weekend, the coach said: "I will definitely have a think on that."There is no question about that; I will have a decision to make on Sunday as to which direction we are going to go."

In the early stages, Steelers were unrecognisable from the team that had banged in 27 goals in the previous four games.

Conversely, Panthers made nonsense of the fact they are sitting at the bottom of the table.

The home side snuffed out Steelers' offensive players in the opening frame and put four of their own chances away.

Brett Perlini drifted into some open ice to score on 2:56 and goalie Churchfield conceded a second to Christophe Boivin, assisted by Perlini, before the game was 10 minutes old.

For the second time in two matches, Sheffield found themselves 0-2 down.

Churchfield has played a lot of minutes since first-choice John Muse was injured and when a clean passing move was crowned by a Mark Matheson goal, Fox took him out of the net in favour of 19-year-old Warburton.

That seemed to supercharge the team, Alex Graham hitting the post.

But before they could build any momentum Bovin rattled in his second.

So with a rookie goalie in net and trailing 0-4, Fox had a lot of talking to do in the first interval.

Sheffield wasted a good chance to get on the scoresheet on 24 minutes, Josef Hrabal just failing to connect as he'd have liked with a Matt Myers' rebound.

Mikyska tried to ignite some offence, Sonder Olden had a half chance but when a power play came and went without a goal, the game looked well out of reach for Sheffield.

But when Panthers' danger man Austin Cangelosi called for holding, Sheffield improved their power play and Jason Hewitt hit the net, assisted by Robert Dowd and Mikyska at 36;58.

So at 1-4 down and the final session looming, Sheffield fans watching on a web stream were hoping for a memorable last 20 minutes.

A slip-up on the power play from Kevin Schulze almost opened the door for a Nottingham fifth.

With the men in black forechecking hard and in numbers, it was hard to see anyway back for Fox's troops.

But the effervescent Mikyska scored from an implausible angle behind the net to make it 2-4, at 46;26.

Warburton kept the game alive for Sheffield when he stopped an Oliver Betteridge breakaway.

With 91 seconds left, and Warburton withdrawn for an extra skater, a Liam Kirk drive through traffic reduced the arrears to one goal.

But Steelers, showing the energy that had deserted them earlier in the game, couldn't beat the clock as time ran out.