Leeds Chiefs seeking near-perfect ending in bid to upset playoff odds
AS has been clear for some time now, if Leeds Chiefs are to make the NIHL National post-season it will have to be done the hard way.
With 12 games remaining, Sam Zajac’s team have to somehow overturn an 11-point deficit on Bracknell Bees, the team currently occupying the eighth and final playoff spot.
It is, as the Chiefs’ player-coach has admitted for some time now, a ‘big ask’. But if there is one thing this Chiefs team has shown all season it is their willingness to battle against the odds.
Whether it be having no home rink to play or practise out of for the first two thirds of the season, or having the bulk of their equipment stolen within 48 hours of being delivered, or even turning up for games with barely two full lines, Zajac’s team have had it tough.
But - bar the odd player departure here and there - that adversity has produced another constant theme to run throughout the team’s debut season: that being togetherness and team spirit.
There are now just five weekends remaining in the regular season and while the Chiefs do have to play each of their playoff rivals Bracknell and Raiders IHC one more time, favours will be required from elsewhere, while they themselves are going to have to be near-perfect.
In their favour is the fact that, apart from Peterborough Phantoms and Swindon Wildcats, the Chiefs have proved they can beat any team in the league, including league leaders Telford Tigers twice in recent weeks.
Another bonus for Zajac and his men is that eight of the 12 remaining games are on home ice.
A four-point haul from this Saturday’s trip to Basingstoke Bison before a derby at home to Sheffield Steeldogs 24 hours later, is bordering on essential.
“We do still feel like we’ve got time to make up ground,” said Zajac. “Don’t get me wrong, it is a mountain to climb in order to make it but it is only going to happen through hard work.
“It is a very big ask but it is still do-able and we’ll keep going right up until it is mathematically impossible.”
The six-point weekend the Chiefs hoped for after getting off to such a great start on Friday night at home to Hull Pirates, never materialised, but there are likely to be two more such schedule pile-ups between now and March 22.
“We said to the guys after Sunday, that we’ve got to do the same again at least once, if not twice more before the end of the regular season,” added Zajac.
“So we need to find a way, mentally, physically, even emotionally, to be ready for those three-game weekends when they come.
“But they are all big weekends now - they have been for a while.
“We’ve got five of them left and they are all going to count.”