Leeds Knights: Why coach Ryan Aldridge was so keen to bring back Sam Zajac
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Not only was the 32-year-old defenceman a reassuring presence out on the ice for Leeds Knights, he was also a much-needed authoritative voice in the locker room and on the bench.
And it is those qualities that convincedAldridge to make the veteran one of his first signings as head coach for the 2022-23 NIHL National campaign, joining goaltender Sam Gospel and forwards Lewis Baldwin and Kieran Brown on the fledgling Knights’ roster.
More signings – some familiar, others not so – are expected in the coming weeks, but it was clear Aldridge was very keen to get Zajac back on board.
“He’s massive for us,” said Aldridge. “His experience, the type of player he is, the type of person he is – everything about him.
“He’s a guy that, when you get a chance to have somebody like him around your group, on your team, you’ve got to make sure you get him and I’m so delighted that we have.
“He’s one of the most experienced guys in our locker-room and that is vital for the young team that we have here.
“He’s been there and done everything and is one of the best British defenceman outside of the Elite League, the fans love him and he’s going to be a massive part of our team going forward.
“When he was out for a while through injury and then work, it was a big hole for us to fill every night and that goes back to everything that he brings both on and off the ice, because he was a big hole to fill in the locker room, too.”
Aldridge said he intended to appoint a ‘leadership group’ next season, with Zajac an integral part of that, given his vast experience.
“He will be the ultimate leader of our group,” added Aldridge.
“We’re going to have more of a leadership group this year and he will be like the mentor of that group.
“He’ll have more of a club captain-type role, where even the captains within the group will go to him for guidance.
“Sammy is somebody that I trust 100 per cent and someone that I would go and talk to about anything.”