Leeds Chiefs intend to establish Elland Road home comforts

NOW they’ve had a taste of what it feels like to have a genuine home crowd behind them, Leeds Chiefs’ players can’t wait to experience it again.

Sunday, 2nd February 2020, 5:00 pm

Having spent the first five months of their inaugural season effectively on the road while they waited for their Elland Road rink to be made fit-for-purpose, the Chiefs finally got to skate out on home ice on Friday night.

The 4-1 defeat at the hands of Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Steeldogs was clearly not in the script, but there were still reasons to be cheerful.

The most obvious positive was the 600-plus fans who were inside the new rink to witness the first-ever game there which began just after 7.30pm when the Chiefs’ Patrik Valcak squared up to the Steeldogs’ Vladimir Luka at centre ice.

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FIRST UP: Lewis Houston (No 18) celebrates becoming the first Leeds Chiefs' player to score at the Elland Road venue. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The biggest difference for the Leeds players this time, of course, was that the majority of the crowd were there to cheer them on.

The many and varied travels taken on during this campaign have seen the Chiefs use seven other venues for ‘home’ matches before finally setting foot inside their own rink.

Some of those games – in Basingstoke and Peterborough, for example – have been attended by only a handful of loyal Chiefs’ fans. Just last week in Coventry, when they used the SkyDome Arena to beat Milton Keynes Lightning 4-1, the ‘home’ support was dwarfed by hundreds of fans supporting the away team, given their shorter journey to the venue.

But on Friday, in Leeds, the drummers were drumming and the majority of the crowd were singing for the hosts, something they continued to do even after Steeldogs’ player-coach Ben Morgan sealed the win when making it 4-1 with with less than three minutes remaining.

Leeds Chiefs' fans support their team during Friday night's long-awaited home opener. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

It was the kind of backing the Chiefs’ players have not benefited from previously this season, it’s impact put to good effect by the hosts in a first period which saw them come out firing to swarm all over the visitors. Sadly, none of the 24 shots on goal could find a way past netminder Dimitri Zimozdra.

Chiefs’ player-coach Sam Zajac admitted the immediate build-up to the game and the continued support throughout, even when the game was clearly gone, left a lasting impression on him and his players.

“It was great to see that stand packed to the rafters and it clearly looks like the interest is here,” he said. “We need to make sure we put on a show for them during the games we’ve got left here.

“Seeing so many home fans in the building definitely spurred us on and we had a good first period on the back of it – we just couldn’t score.

LET'S GET THIS STARTED: Leeds Chiefs’ Patrik Valcak, right, prepares for the first-ever face off at the new Elland Road rink on Friday night. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

“Some of the games we’ve had, there have been 10-12 people watching and while they make an amazing amount of noise, when you’ve got 600-plus in the building like we did on Friday it’s certainly a lot more atmospheric and great to play in front of.”

Only one section of the rink’s seating was ready to use on Friday night, although it is hoped the opposite side could be ready to use by the end of the month, something which would double the venue’s potential capacity to around the 1,000 mark.

Ultimately, of course, when the rink is fully open it is expected to hold 2,000 spectators, something Zajac and his players are desperate to experience.

“When the place is fully open, if we can get anywhere near that full capacity, then it is going to be a hell of a place to play a game of hockey.

OPENING UP: Leeds Chiefs' Caly Robertson takes on Sheffield Steeldogs' Craig Elliott at Elland Road on Friday night. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

“It should help us enormously but will also make it tough for teams coming in and playing in front of that kind of intimidating atmosphere.

“Leeds sports’ fans are renowned for the passion they have for their teams, so if we can get any degree of that, we’re in for a noisy building.”