Battle of the British Goaltenders: Ben Bowns vs. Stephen Murphy
Over the past several years, the number one goaltender in British hockey has simply been the Belfast Giant’s Stephen Murphy, who has reigned, until recently, under the title as the national side’s go-to guy. This despite occasional pressure from Stevie Lyle, most notably at the Sochi 2014 QFs.
Whenever the World Championships have rolled around however, I believe this position has been challenged by Ben Bowns of the Cardiff Devils, also a former Stingray and Steeldog.
Firstly, before I enter the comparison and my argument, I do believe the position of goaltender is worrying for the future simply because I feel there is a true lack of top class British goaltenders in the league. The Cardiff Devils are the only current EIHL team to use a British goaltender, discounting Belfast due to the injury to Murphy, with all the other teams supplying back-ups such as Geoff Woolhouse of Sheffield, Joseph Myers of Braehead and Mike Will of Cardiff, who was involved in the GB set-up last year, just to name a selection.
Preferably as the years advance we see this potential problem addressed, with the potential emergence of Telford’s Sam Gospel, or indeed any other British goaltender take a chance with both hands to push themselves to an elite level and strengthen GB’s pool of goaltenders.
The 2014-15 Elite Ice Hockey league campaign has seen the emergence of the British goaltender, following on from a quality showing at the World Championships where he impressed and took over as GB’s #1 for the tournament, which I believe shows a potential long term change in regards to who in future will be the man to backstop GB to potiental successes.
However, Bowns’ top level career is somewhat fledgling, with his chance occurring in 2012-13 with the Stingrays’ after an impressive junior career in various Sheffield teams before concluding with the Steeldogs’ of the EPIHL. Bowns’ was continuously noted about his spectacular talent.
Bowns’ began with a 54 game season with a GAA of 3.35 and a SV% of 0.905 which I personally believe is an impressive beginning to a career, which will only go onto bigger and better things with a Challenge Cup Final awaiting on Sunday 8th March – this is simply a just reward for years of hard work [Editor’s Note: this article was written prior to the Final; Bowns lead his team to an impressive 2-1 victory over Sheffield, stopping 25 of 26 shots]. His follow-up year was marked by similar numbers and the growth to position of back-up behind Stephen Murphy.
In between the 2013-14 and the 2014-15 season, the true appearance of Ben Bowns’ elite level of goaltending began, which has led to him becoming, in my opinion especially, Britain’s next number one following years of Murphy’s dominance. Bowns provided some stellar numbers for GB in the 2014 World Championships in Lithuania with 5 games played and a GAA of 1.90 with a SV% .902, outstanding numbers with Bowns’ first stepping between the pipes when called upon.
These numbers and his overall performance somewhat merged into his new role as the Cardiff Devils #1, which over the past years has been controlled by American Phil Osaer and Welshman Stevie Lyle. Currently, Bowns’ stands as the 4th best goaltender in the league, behind Braehead’s Kyle Jones, Sheffield’ Frank Doyle and Nottingham’s Kowalski but this simply makes him ranked statistically the best British goaltender. His numbers currently stand at 54 games played with GAA of 2.52 and SV% of .911.
This season however, has seen Bowns’ play some of his best hockey. backstopping the Devils on a remarkable title challenge as they sit in 3rd behind Sheffield and Braehead with some spectactular performances. The Devils are also on the brink of a European place.
Unfortunately, Murphy’s 2014-15 Elite Ice Hockey league season has been ruined with injury, with the Scot being out around 4 months so far, an honest shame due to the quality he possesses.
However, this does not take away from his spectacular numbers over the past 3 years, with a minimum of 40 games played and GAA of 2.42 in 2012-13 to 2.28 in 2013-14 in his last fully particpated year.
His accomplishments continue to grow with the 2011-12 season being a significant one as he became the first GB goaltender to backstop a team to a EIHL championship, with Murphy collecting another in 2013-14 season.
Murphy’s position as GB’s #1 began in 2004-05 which he has grasped with both hands since then, until the 2014 World Championships and wasn’t aided with the Sochi 2014 Olympic qualifying competition which he missed out on with a groin injury, which is a similar injury to the one which has plagued him within the past, in the unsuccessful group campaign versus the likes of France and Kazahkstan.
Murphy’s numbers have shown remarkable consistency throughout his rather long career, which has taken him to Sweden and Norway alongside Britain, which simply shows his potential to keep producing the vital numbers required to be a #1 goaltender for any team, especially a championship battling Giants. Personally, I believe Belfast has significantly missed the presence of Murphy behind their defense; with no offense aimed at Chubak, I simply believe Murphy is an elite goaltender, whilst Chubak is a goaltender who is continuing to grow himself to reach this elite level.
The main question surrounding Murphy is how will he play once he makes the long awaited return between the pipes, with the idea that the injury could mentally affect him. However, should the trend remain Murphy will no doubt return to his best, which often has opposition fans cursing his brickwall performance like years gone by.
My overall conclusion is a belief that Ben Bowns is the future for British goaltending, and under the guidance of the Cardiff Devils coaching staff will only go from strength to strength and indeed will cement his position as the man between the pipes night after night for the British lions. However, you cannot rule out Murphy entirely with the possibility and track record of his bouncing back and easily proving his position as the number one in Britain.
My personal opinion is also that Bowns will be the goaltender at the next World Championships in Eindhoven, Netherlands, that tournament beginning on 13th April 2015.