Leeds Knights: Numbers game adding up for Adam Barnes as he makes it count with Kieran Brown in pursuit of NIHL national play-off glory

BY his own admission, Adam Barnes had a slow start to the 2021-22 NIHL National campaign with Leeds Knights.

By Phil Harrison
Saturday, 12th March 2022, 9:55 am

But if the last few weeks are anything to go by, he seems to be trying to make up for lost time.

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More than a third of the 70 points he has accumulated during the course of the campaign have come from his last 10 games, matching prolific linemate and close friend Kieran Brown - the second-tier’s top points scorer - blow for blow.

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Adam Barnes (left) has come to the fore in recent weeks for Leeds Knights, scoring 25 points, including 10 goals, in his last 10 games - more than a third of his season's output across 50 games. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The influence of coach Ryan Aldridge in mid-January also seems to have been a key factor, as has the absence of former line-mate Brandon Whistle who, since the sacking of his father Dave as head coach, has effectively become a Sheffield Steelers player.

And while Barnes was more than happy skating alongside Whistle and Brown on the Knights’ top line, the departure of the former has opened up more opportunities in terms of ice time and special team opportunities, not just for himself but for the rest of the team’s forward contingent too.

Kieran Brown leads the way in points both for Leeds Knights and the whole of NIHL National, but he has been matched by line-mate Adam Barnes over the last 10 games. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints

His alliance with fellow winger Brown has continued under Aldridge, with the addition of veteran Matty Davies stepping in at centre making it one of the most skilful and exciting lines in the whole of the league.

His chemistry with Brown, of course, goes back to their days playing junior hockey at Bradford Bulldogs, under the watchful eye of Brown’s father Andy, who later this month heads to Estonia as assistant coach for a World Championship Division Two campaign with GB Under-18s.

With 25 goals and 45 assists in 50 appearances for the Knights, Barnes finds himself hovering just outside the top 10 for points-scorers in the league, although his focus is on ensuring the Knights go into the play-offs maintaining the momentum they have developed since Aldridge’s arrival.

“I had a bit of a slow start to the season to be honest but, recently, there have been more opportunities to step up which I think I have taken which I’m happy about,” said Barnes.

Leeds Knights' head coach Ryan Aldridge is in place until the end of the season at least and has had a positive impact on the team since arriving two months ago. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“It’s been really good to be playing alongside Kieran again this season.

“The last time I played with him regularly was at Bradford, which is quite a few years ago obviously.

“To be able to come together again at this level has been a treat for me this year and, with our chemistry building again, I feel it’s another big positive for the team.”

Barnes, of course, was an ever-present during the first instalment of semi-pro hockey in the city when Leeds Chiefs were launched by Elland Road rink owners Planet Ice.

Brandon Whistle is effectively a Sheffield Steelers player now, having not iced for Leeds Knights since January 30. Picture: Dean Woolley

In what was a well-documented, endlessly troubled year, Barnes was a rare highlight, top-scoring for the team with 50 points - including 26 goals from 50 appearances. Like a number of his Knights team-mates, Barnes is glad to still be part of the franchise, owned by Steve Nell, and it would be a surprise were he not to be offered a deal to return for 2022-23, like Brown and netminder Sam Gospel already have.

“I’ve been in Leeds since the very start, so I’m happy to see where it is going,” added Barnes. “I’ve enjoyed this season with the new ownership and it has all been heading in the right direction.

“I’m also pleased with my performances throughout the season, which is an added bonus. It’s been a good all-round year and I’m excited to see where else it will all go.”

With second place potentially up for grabs this weekend when they take on current incumbents Milton Keynes Lightning in an eagerly-anticipated double-header, Brown insists the Knights should avoid thinking about final league positions.

“We don’t need to put too much pressure on ourselves because we haven’t done recently and that has been working well for us,” he said. “If we just concentrate on playing our own game we should be fine and I believe that Ryan can get us really close to that second spot.

“If we halve the weekend, that would still be a good weekend.”