Distance no issue as Leeds ice hockey coach Dave Whistle starts NIHL National roster build

HE may be a few weeks away from setting foot back in the UK but new Leeds ice hockey coach Dave Whistle has wasted little time in piecing together his roster for the 2021-22 NIHL National season.

Monday, 17th May 2021, 6:45 am
ON THE BENCH: Netminder Sam Gospel and Lewis Baldwin are just two players known to have signed up for the 2021-22 NIHL National season in Leeds. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss

Several pieces are already in place, thanks to new team owner Steve Nell who has already announced goaltender Sam Gospel, defenceman Lewis Baldwin and forward Kieran Brown, with at least four more players signed and sealed.

All the players secured so far by Nell meet with the approval of new head coach and GM Whistle, who will now take over the team-building process.

Whistle has enjoyed great success in the UK before, leading Bracknell Bees and Belfast Giants to top-flight regular season championships, while adding a play-off title to the trophy cupboard during his time in Northern Ireland.

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NURTURING: Dave Whistle, far right, has spent the past few years working at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, British Columbia. Picture courtesy of OHA.

In more recent times, Whistle has been coaching youngsters at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Canada, so is equally at home dealing with former NHL stars through to up-and-coming raw talent.

It may be seven years since Whistle was last directly involved on these shores - a short second stint at Cardiff Devils - but he has kept in touch with the UK game throughout.

He has partly been able to do that through his two sons, Nottingham Panthers’ netminder Jackson - who yesterday jetted off to Latvia with the Great Britain squad for the World Championships - and forward Brandon, who spent a season alongside his older brother at another of Whistle’s former clubs, Sheffield Steelers, before a stellar 2019-20 season in NIHL National with Telford Tigers.

“I’m already putting the pieces of this team together, Steve and I have already gone over many things” said Whistle.

Dave Whistle is equally at home coaching youngsters as much as experienced stars, such as when he was in charge at Belfast Giants from 2000-2003. Picture courtesy of OHA.

“I like building my teams by units and by lines, so we’re going to go through the positives and the weaknesses of some of the players that are already signed and then I’ll start looking at what else it is that we need.

“I like a good mixture and, just in case there are one or two guys who get hurt, I always like to make sure I’ve got one forward who can also be a defenceman.”

Player development will be a key part of Whistle’s remit in Leeds, bringing younger players through to go on to bigger things elsewhere in the game.

He feels he has the qualities to achieve that, particularly given his recent years at Okanagan.

BIGN NAMES: Dave Whistle instructs his Belfast Giants team at the Odyssey Arena back in November 2002. Picture: Michael Cooper/Getty Images

“Steve has been doing a good job in recruiting already,” added Whistle. “Usually I’ve been OK managing and making up teams, that was always one of my stronger points. But I feel that over the last 10 years or so, I’ve become a better all-round coach. Working at hockey academies, you start at point A and you’ve got to get to Point F over an eight or nine month period.

“In the Elite League or Superleague, with most of those guys, there was no real teaching involved, it was more about managing them.

“Hockey is a whole new game these days, so fast, so skilful and I’ve really enjoyed teaching kids here and we’ve had some elite kids come through here and there have been a few go on to the NHL - I enjoy actually helping out some younger kids and breaking the game down a bit more.”

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