Leeds Chiefs ready to play ‘desperate’ in crunch clash against Bracknell Bees

RECENT WEEKS have thrown up a number of big nights for Leeds Chiefs as they continue their battle to reach the NIHL National playoffs. Tonight, however, is as big as it gets, according to player-coach Sam Zajac.
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Heading into the weekend, the Chiefs remain rooted to the bottom of the regular season standings, 12 points adrift of Romford-based Raiders IHC, the team who occupy the eighth and final playoff spot.

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Bracknell Bees coach Doug Sheppard confident of pipping Leeds Chiefs to playoffs

Tonight sees Leeds host Bracknell Bees, the team sitting between them and Raiders and who themselves are 10 points clear of the West Yorkshire club.

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Leeds have a game in hand on both teams, but know they are going to have to produce the kind of win streak that has proved elusive so far this season if they are to stand any chance of extending their season past Sunday, March 22.

The odds are stacked heavily against them and if they emerge from the next two days with no points while Raiders take four from their double-header against Hull Pirates then the season will effectively be done and dusted for Zajac and his players.

But, while there are points to be had and rivals to catch, the Chiefs will keep on going, one big advantage in their favour being that seven of their 10 remaining regular season games are on home ice, with Basingstoke Bison heading to Elland Road tomorrow (5.30pm).

“Realistically we need a four-point weekend – it is as simple as that,” said Zajac, ahead of tonight’s crunch encounter with Doug Sheppard’s Bracknell.

DESPERATE TIMES: Leeds Chiefs' player-coach, Sam Zajac. Picture: Dean Woolley.DESPERATE TIMES: Leeds Chiefs' player-coach, Sam Zajac. Picture: Dean Woolley.
DESPERATE TIMES: Leeds Chiefs' player-coach, Sam Zajac. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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“Playing one of our playoff rivals on the first night makes it a four-pointer – it is a huge, huge game for us and easily the biggest of the season by far.

“It is a case of playing desperate hockey this weekend but, to be honest, it has been like that for the past few weeks.

“We speak about it before every game, how we have to work harder than every team and how we have to be desperate and, since we got into our rink, we have been playing that way.

OPPOSITE NUMBER: Bracknell Bees head coach, Doug Sheppard. Picture courtesy of Kevin Slyfield.OPPOSITE NUMBER: Bracknell Bees head coach, Doug Sheppard. Picture courtesy of Kevin Slyfield.
OPPOSITE NUMBER: Bracknell Bees head coach, Doug Sheppard. Picture courtesy of Kevin Slyfield.

“When we’ve had success, it is when we’ve played that way. The guys know we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here, we’re not trying to over-complicate things.

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“We know we’ve got to come out with a good, honest effort and with the roster we’ve got now we’ve always got a chance if we do that.”

In the four-game head-to-head series, Bracknell hold a 2-1 lead, including inflicting the Chiefs’ heaviest defeat of the campaign back in late December when they triumphed 11-1 at the John Nike Leisuresports Complex, although the Chiefs hit back the following week by winning 5-2 in Blackburn

For the first time this season – purely because they did not get into their rink until the end of January – the Chiefs will spend the entire weekend on home ice, something Zajac believes can work in their favour.

ONE TO FORGET: Sam Zajac 
shows his frustration during December's 11-1 humbling at the hands of Bracknell Bees. 
Picture courtesy of Kevin Slyfield.ONE TO FORGET: Sam Zajac 
shows his frustration during December's 11-1 humbling at the hands of Bracknell Bees. 
Picture courtesy of Kevin Slyfield.
ONE TO FORGET: Sam Zajac shows his frustration during December's 11-1 humbling at the hands of Bracknell Bees. Picture courtesy of Kevin Slyfield.

“It is a bonus for us because once you’re at home, it gives you that edge and we’re starting to learn how to play in this rink really well,” added Zajac, who will have forward Connor Henderson back, although two-way winger Jordan Kelsall will remain with parent club Nottingham Panthers.

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“It is already becoming a difficult place for other teams to come to, but it also ramps up the intensity even more for us because there are hopefully going to be two big home crowds here and they are going to be expecting four points.

“But we’re going into this expecting four points, too – it’s desperation time so anything less than that probably isn’t good enough.”