Bracknell Bees 11 Leeds Chiefs 1 – Struggling Chiefs left reeling by stinging loss

IN a debut season littered with adversity, Leeds Chiefs will be hurting more than at any other moment on Monday morning after their mauling at the hands of a rampant Bracknell Bees.

Monday, 30th December 2019, 12:03 am
DOWN AND OUT: Leeds Chiefs' replacement netminder Miles Finney is slumped in his goal during Sunday night's 11-1 defeat at Bracknell Bees. Picture courtesy of Kevin Slyfield.

Sam Zajac has never been one to easily reach for an excuse to explain away a bad performance or result this season – although to be fair nobody could blame him given the many obstacles placed in his way in his first spell as a player-coach

But last night’s trip to Berkshire to a venue where they were only edged out 4-3 on their previous visit back in September was perhaps a game too far, admitted the 30-year-old.

What will have frustrated him more was that he had gone into last night’s game buoyed by the team’s previous night’s showing in Blackburn when they could justifiably have counted themselves unlucky to lose out 4-2 to NIHL National leaders Telford Tigers.

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TOUGH NIGHT: Liam Charnock battles for puck possession on a testing night against Bracknell Bees. Picture courtesy of Kevin Slyfield.

“We were running on empty from the first shift,” said a disappointed Zajac.

“We didn’t play smart and we over-exerted ourselves at the wrong times.

“Our lack of numbers and training really showed it’s face in the worst possible way and we never got into the game until it was way too late.

“It’s frustrating as we showed on Saturday that when we play the right way we can give any team a game.

FRUSTRATED: Leeds Chiefs' Sam Zajac, pictured during Sunday's heavy loss at Bracknell Bees. Picture courtesy of Kevin Slyfield.

“But against Bracknell we were a million miles from the team that ran Telford close in terms of our game management and compete levels.

“We have to give full credit to Bracknell, though, because they ran us ragged, but to be honest we weren’t even the second best team out there.”

It remains to be seen how the Chiefs bounce back from their heaviest defeat of the season so far ahead of tomorrow’s trip to South Yorkshire to face Sheffield Steeldogs (1pm).

Zajac will be hoping his team show the same mental strength they have had to display to overcome the numerous issues that havedogged their first-ever season both on and off the ice.

The game was over by the end of the first period when they found themselves 5-0 down.

Calum Robertson got the ball rolling for Bracknell at 1.45, with Zack Milton, Dominik Gabaj, James Galazzi and Josh Ealey-Newman putting the game beyond the visitors’ reach with just over 18 minutes on the clock.

Goaltender Sam Gospel was replaced by Miles Finney at the break, but he fared little better, with Ryan Webb, Aidan Doughty, William Stead and Gabaj all firing past him.

The only highlight of the evening came in the 48th minute when defenceman Lewis Baldwin got the visitors on the scoreboard, although the Bees were quick to hit back with Roman Malinik and Josh Martin completing the rout.

An additonal frustration nagging away at the Chiefs on the 205-mile bus ride home will be that, for the second week running, they were unable to claw back any ground on the team immediately above them in the standings, although last week’s 5-4 loss to Raiders will have been nowhere near as disappointing as Sunday night’s humbling experience.

Having now reached the halfway mark of 26 games, there still remains time for the Chiefs to salvage their debut campaign and make a concerted push for the playoffs.

The gap the Chiefs need to bridge in order to make the post-season currently stands at 12 points, Bracknell’s win taking them back up to the eighth and final playoff spot above Raiders IHC.

As was clear for all to see in the narrow defeat to Telford on Saturday night, the Chiefs can compete with the best this newly-established second-tier has to offer.

But they need more bodies, especially a replacement import for the now long-departed Radek Meidl. If that situation is resolved as expected early in January, it could serve as the catalyst to kickstart the Chiefs’ season for real, with the added impetus offered by them finally moving into their Elland Road rink at the end of the month another potentially pivotal moment.