Leeds Knights coach Ryan Aldridge reveals why he was so keen to re-sign Ethan Hehir
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Fast forward five months or so and the 20-year-old former GB Under-20 international is a player clearly at the forefront of his head coach’s thoughts.
Aldridge didn’t need any persuading that Billingham-born Hehir had to be among those Knights players offered the chance to retain their place on the roster for the 2022-23 NIHL National campaign.
The way Hehir responded to Aldridge’s arrival was impressive, making himself an indispensable part of the interim coach’s plans.
Hehir’s great strength, as far as Aldridge is concerned, is that he can be trusted to play in any forward position on any line. Whether it was centering the first line in-between the often free-scoring Kieran Brown and Adam Barnes, or back in a more familiar role as a third-line winger alongside Joe Coulter and Jordan Fisher, Hehir delivered.
And when player and coach came together to first discuss plans for next season, it was clear early on that both were on the same page.
“He was a welcome, very pleasant surprise,” said Aldridge of Hehir. “I didn’t know him at all when I first walked in that locker room. I just thought he was a young lad from the local area. But to be honest with you, if there had been a coach’s player of the year award, he probably would have got it.
“It’s just the way he does everything with a smile on his face – there’s no drama with him. He can centre your top line, you can drop him back to the third line, put him on the wing – he just does it. He enjoys his hockey and is somebody that we definitely had to have back.
“He is a bit of an unsung hero to be honest. He does the simple things, and he does them so well. You can put him out there with Browny and Barnesy and they loved playing with him and that’s a big positive. As a centreman, he’s so smart between the dots and all over the ice.
“Wherever I put him, he just does it well.
“He’s a very intelligent player and at 20 he’s got a very, very bright future in the game – hopefully one that is with Leeds for a long time.”
Last season saw Hehir post 26 points – including nine goals – from 64 games, only being robbed playing in every single game for the Knights when he tested positive for Covid for the last weekend of the regular season.
Original head coach Dave Whistle was always impressed with Hehir’s contribution to the Knights’ third line alongside, Coulter and Fisher, often referring to it as his most reliable forward unit, while Aldridge saw enough to provide him with opportunities to prove himself elsewhere in the line-up.
The extra ice time and responsibilities he found himself handed – partly through the Knights often playing short-benched – helped give Hehir the confidence he thrives on.
“When Ryan came in he helped instil a lot more confidence in my game and he believed in me a lot more too,” said Hehir. “I had a spring in my step and that was down to confidence – that’s always been a big thing for me.
“It was tiring playing short-benched as often as we did and I think it took its toll eventually when we got into the play-offs.
“But I kind of enjoyed it, too, because it gave me a lot more ice time and a better chance to show what I could do. I ended up moving into centre and it suited me a lot better, so it worked a lot in my favour. I’m still only young and so I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me yet.”