Coach Dave Whistle relishing Leeds Knights’ tough weekend schedule

TOMORROW’S five-hour trip to face NIHL National leaders Swindon Wildcats will mark exactly the halfway point for Leeds Knights in their regular season league campaign.

By Phil Harrison
Friday, 7th January 2022, 6:45 am

They will then start the second half of a 48-game season with an equally daunting task when playing host to third-placed Milton Keynes Lightning for the first time on Sunday.

In one way, the next 48 hours or so probably represent one of the toughest weekends the 2021-22 fixture schedule could throw up for Dave Whistle and his team. But the 55-year-old Canadian wouldn’t want it any other way.

Of the teams he has pitted his wits against this season, Whistle has been most impressed by Swindon and Milton Keynes, along with Telford Tigers.

BRING IT ON: Leeds Knights coach David Whistle is relishing this weekend's matches against Swindon and Milton Keynes. Picture: James Hardisty.

“It’s difficult to say who exactly is the most difficult opponent we’ve faced, there are a lot of good teams in this league,” said Whistle. “I mean, Raiders are bottom but we’ve lost to them all three times that we’ve played them – that’s exactly what this league is like.

“But I think that Swindon, Milton Keynes and Telford, are pretty much the strongest teams overall – they are all pretty deep and have three strong lines. It’s not like they rely on one line to do the goalscoring, or one line to play defence – they all have three lines that do both pretty well.

“We’ve got some good games coming up over the next couple of weeks and I’m really looking forward to them. After this weekend, we’ve then got Basingstoke and Raiders, and Steeldogs twice – all tough games, but all the kind of games you want to be involved in.”

The Knights overcame a scare against a significantly under-strength Wildcats on home ice on Monday, letting a 2-0 lead slip before eventually emerging as 5-2 winners.

TOUGH TEST: Leeds Knights' Kieran Brown in action against tomorrow's opponents Swindon Wildcats. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

Their 11th win of the season – their 10th in regulation – saw them remain fifth in the standings, and move to within three points of the Steeldogs with a game in hand. The Knights will arrive at the Link Centre nine points adrift of their hosts, again with a game in hand.

If they are to make a serious push for the regular season title, it is the kind of game they need to start winning.

But there’s little doubt the Knights will come up against a Swindon team buoyed by both the return of a number of key players missing through Covid and the fact they are once again sitting top of the standings.

How they became league leaders again hasn’t gone down well in some quarters, the Wildcats this week awarded two points and a 5-0 win after their scheduled game at Raiders on December 19 was called off by the hosts because of Covid.

The decision has been heavily criticised by some, but it would appear – judging by various interviews and statements made in recent weeks – that all teams, aware Covid may prove an issue at some point, signed up to the rules before the season began.

Either way, Wildcats player-coach Aaron Nell – at one point without 10 players through a combination of Covid and injury – expects at least eight players to return to the fray tomorrow.

“I’m expecting eight, maybe nine back,” said Nell. “We’ve had good reports from the physio, so we’re trying to get as many of them back as possible.

“Every team goes through this but, hopefully from a Covid point of view, we won’t have any outbreaks again, there’s not many more people left to get it.

“Leeds had a good win on Monday against us but we were down on a lot of bodies.

“Not through our own fault, we’ve lost three in a row at home, too, so we really need to get back to winning ways here.”

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