Battling Leeds Chiefs overcome adversity once again to enjoy maximum return against Basingstoke Bison
AHEAD OF a weekend he had billed as the “toughest so far” for his short-benched Leeds Chiefs team, player-coach Sam Zajac said he would have been happy to come away with just a single point from the double-header at Basingstoke Bison.
Safe to assume then that the bus ride back from Hampshire last night was a particularly boisterous one, after new signing Lewis Houston fired home an overtime winner for a 3-2 win which netted the struggling West Yorkshire club four points after their stunning 4-2 triumph the previous night.
The Chiefs had released three players at their own request on Friday night - including experienced centre James Archer and import forward Radek Meidl - while having already secured the signing of 18-year-old Houston from NIHL One North outfit Solways Sharks.
Zajac had spoken beforehand about how the departure of two of the team’s leading scorers in Archer and Meidl offered opportunities to step up and shine.
Liam Charnock proved to be that player, the former Sheffield Steeldogs winger scoring twice on each night, although, according to an understandably delighted Zajac, the wins were down to stellar performances from the whole of his depleted roster throughout the weekend.
The club’s second four-point weekend was never going to be enough to lift them off the bottom of the NIHL National standings, but the gap on the team above them, Raiders IHC, is now just five points.
More crucially, it means they remain seven points adrift of the eighth and final playoff spot, now occupied by Milton Keynes Lightning who enjoyed their own four-point weekend at the expense of Sheffield.
Having no doubt surprised Basingstoke the previous night, the Chiefs turned from visitors into hosts last night, the game billed as a home game while their Elland Road rink nears completion.
And while Saturday will have brought satisfaction for Zajac and his players, their come-from-behind performance 24 hours later, will have been even more pleasing.
It looked as if the shortage of bodies was finally going to tell when they found themselves 2-0 down at the halfway mark.
But Charnock, no doubt oozing confidence from his efforts the previous night, struck again, halving the deficit on a feed from Ethan Hehir at 30.20.
Just over two minutes later, Andres Kopstals was the provider as Charnock doubled his tally for the second night in a row.
A goalless third period ensued with plenty of chances at both ends, but another impressive performance from Sam Gospel kept his team in the picture and, with less than 40 seconds remaining in overtime, Houston struck his first significant blow as a Chiefs’ player to seal a memorable weekend.
On Saturday, Leeds had got off to the ideal start, going ahead with 4.53 on the clock through Charnock.
That is how it stayed until just before the halfway mark when Adam Barnes doubled the visitors’ advantage at 28.27.
Bison were quick to respond this time, halving the deficit at 31.54 on the power play through Ryan Sutton with Richard Benthan in the box on a tripping call.
But the Chiefs stunned their hosts by quickly restoring their two-goal advantage, Charnock combining with Hehir again to fire in his second of the night at 33.35.
Less than a minute into the third period, the hosts were back within one when Elliot Dewey fired past Gospel.
But the Chiefs - outshot 42-24 on the night - weathered the storm and re-established a two-goal cushion when Hehir fired home at 47.27.