Andres Kopstals keen for Leeds Chiefs to finish on positive note

ONCE the realisation set in that last weekend’s results meant it was impossible for Leeds Chiefs to reach the NIHL National playoffs, it understandably made for a slightly sombre mood at the team’s Elland Road rink.

By Phil Harrison
Saturday, 7th March 2020, 6:55 am

But the collective spirit that has kept Sam Zajac’s team going through some very tough times in a testing debut season for the club, has quickly returned, according to import forward Andres Kopstals.

With eight games remaining, the Chiefs may no longer be able to extend their own season, but they can still have a big say in how their rivals’ campaigns turn out.

As far as Canadian-born Kopstals is concerned, there is at the very least pride to play for, as well as proving that the Chiefs are and will continue to be a competitive force in the British game’s second tier.

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Andres Kopstals, in action against Telford Tigers in Leeds last month. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss.

“Obviously coming into any season the goal is to make the playoffs and once you’re there you never know what can happen,” said Kopstals, who came to the Chiefs for his first taste of hockey abroad after five years playing for the University of Guelph.

“So to be mathematically eliminated from getting there is tough to take. But to be honest it doesn’t change anything about the way we play between now and the end of the regular season, this team has battled all year. Missing out on the playoffs is not going to change us, we’re going to keep battling.”

Kopstals, 26, said it was vital for the Chiefs to keep turning up every night in order to repay the faith of the fans who have stood by them during a difficult season.

The opening of the new rink, however, has provided further proof to Kopstals of the potential for the club in the city.

Leeds Chiefs' fans have impressed Andres Kopstals and the rest of the team since they moved into the new rink on Elland Road. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

“There’s eight games left and we’re definitely playing for pride,” said Kopstals, who with his team-mates today makes a last visit of the season to take on Milton Keynes Lightning before returning home to host leaders Telford Tigers on Sunday.

“But, also, we want to play for our fans. We’re finally in our own rink, our own barn and we’ve already had amazing support from that first night up through to last weekend and that has been amazing for us as players.

“We need to make sure they understand that, no matter what the situation is regarding the season, we’re still going to play as hard as we can every night.”

In his first season abroad, Kopstals has had a steady influence on the Chiefs playing at centre, posting eight goals and 12 assists in his 37 appearances – known more as a defensively-minded forward rather than one who is going to lead the team scoring.

Andres Kopstals, right, turns to celebrate Lewis Houston's overtime winner at Elland Road against Telford Tigers. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss.

He has proved a popular member of the team but, as with everyone else on the current roster, it remains to be seen who makes it back for a second year as player-coach Zajac starts piecing together his line-up for next season.

Regardless of what happens, it seems safe to say that Kopstals has enjoyed his first taste of playing outside of Canada.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” he admitted. “To think that there are now just eight games and three weekends left, I really don’t know where the time has gone. It’s been amazing.

“I didn’t know what to expect coming into this season.

“The boys have been great, the team has been first-class and the fans have been amazing whether that be in the building, on social media, or when I bump into them outside the rink, it’s been a lot of fun.

“So I’m just looking to finish these eight games as hard as I can, play for the fans and play for the boys and we’ll see what happens going into next year.”