Leeds Knights: Forward thinking makes Lewis Baldwin key man for 2022-23 NIHL National season
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Next season will be the first time he will start life on a senior roster as a forward.
The 22-year-old may have already travelled far and wide in his short career so far but now considers Leeds to be very much his home.
Signed on as one of seven defenceman at the start of the Knights’ debut season in NIHL National, Baldwin often became the go-to-guy whenever the dirty work needed doing.
It was Dave Whistle who first gave Baldwin the opportunity to show his offensive chops in the second tier when taking on Sheffield Steeldogs in the Autumn Cup semi-final with just seven recognised forwards.
Thrust forward, Baldwin scored twice to hand the Knights a significant 3-1 first leg lead, something they pressed home in the second leg before eventually going on to reach the final where they were edged out by Swindon Wildcats.
Baldwin eventually returned to his more familiar position on the back end but after Ryan Aldridge arrived to replace Whistle in mid-January, he quickly found himself playing further forward once again.
So successful was the switch, it is on the wing – where he can make his electric skating speed count – that he is expected to start the 2022-23 campaign.
It’s a change he is clearly looking forward to, although whoever takes over the coaching reins this summer – an announcement is anticipated next week – will be safe in the knowledge that Baldwin will continue to offer options at both ends of the ice.
“I’ve signed back as a forward for next season,” revealed Baldwin yesterday.
“I massively enjoyed playing as a forward. To be honest, it’s a lot more fun than playing ‘D’, you get to do a bit more. I really enjoyed it and I think I’ve got the speed for it as well.
“I have spent the majority of my career in defence and it wasn’t necessarily an easy transition to playing forward.
“It has been a challenge learning the new role, but it has pushed me as a player and, going forward, I just want to continue improving my all-round skills.”
Despite the Knights being unable to win any of their six play-off games, Baldwin still views the team’s inaugural campaign as a successful one and with plenty of justification given their fourth-place regular season finish and that aforementioned runners-up spot in the Autumn Cup.
He joins former Bradford Bulldogs’ junior team-mate Kieran Brown – the league’s top points-scorer last season – and highly-rated goaltender Sam Gospel as the only three signings announced so far by Nell.
Baldwin will return for pre-season in August determined to ensure that the Knights make further progress on the ice next time out.
“I’ve loved playing in Leeds and last season was great in particular, especially with Steve in charge,” he added. “It’s one of the biggest cities in England, a great place to play, a great rink, great fans.
“It was definitely a successful season overall. We had a brand new, young team and it was a fresh start for everyone.
“We didn’t have any imports but it was great we finished where we did and made the play-offs – and we came so close to winning the Autumn Cup.
“We need to build on that and I think the main goal for us next year is to make sure we get to Coventry for that play-off final weekend – then go and win it.”