Former Belfast Giants, Bracknell Bees, Cardiff Devils and Sheffield Steelers coach Dave Whistle back in UK hockey as new Leeds ice hockey boss
STEVE NELL has issued a signal of his intent and ambition for ice hockey in Leeds after appointing Dave Whistle as the team’s head coach and GM.
Whistle is a man well-known throughout the UK game, leading Bracknell Bees and Belfast Giants to Superleague titles in the early part of this century, while also working behind the bench at Cardiff Devils and, briefly in 2006, Sheffield Steelers.
For the past six years, the 55-year-old has been coaching at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, British Columbia.
But Ontario-born Whistle, who was inducted into the UK Hall of Fame in 2013, has been looking to move back to the UK for some time and jumped at the opportunity to take the helm at Leeds once he knew owner Nell was looking to fill the position.
The first-ever season of senior hockey in the city came two years ago when the Leeds Chiefs, under player-coach Sam Zajac entered the newly-formed NIHL National.
But it was a campaign disrupted first by the team being without a rink until late January before just six weeks later, the pandemic saw the whole thing shut down.
Under new team owner Nell, the club is effectively born again and has a second chance to grow the game in the city, something Whistle has success in when he became Belfast’s first-ever coach and GM back in 2000.
It is the chance to start afresh somewhere new which proved hugely attractive to the experienced Whistle.
“This is something I’m very excited about for many reasons,” said Whistle. “I’m going to be able to pretty much put my stamp on the whole programme, both junior development hopefully, and with the senior side.
“Hopefully, we can get a really good fanbase so that we can build from that and fill that ice arena and if we can do that it probably means that we are winning
“More and more usually come if the team is winning and if we can get that off to a good start, then we should do well. It’s an opportunity that no other team in that league could have ever given me
“I’m thankful to Steve that he has given me the opportunity to, basically, be the face of that franchise - mostly everything will come through me and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I’m going to go there and do a really good job for them.”
Nell believes in Whistle that he has landed the perfect man for the job he needs to be done when it comes to growing the sport in the city. The Canadian is also keen to oversee junior development from the Elland Road rink.
And although the owner has got several signings in place - Sam Gospel, Lewis Baldwin and Kieran Brown have already been announced with more to follow in the coming weeks - responsibility for the remainder of the roster will now pass to Whistle.
“I needed somebody who was willing to be working on the ground and Dave is very keen to do that,” explained Nell. “He’s very keen to work from the bottom to the top of the organisation and really get involved.
“We want him to be the face of the club. He’s going to be the general manager so he will be that face.
“He’s got all the right attributes for us. He’s not coming in thinking it is going to be easy, he knows it is about building from the bottom up and he is more than happy to do that.”
Despite being in British Columbia for the past six years, Whistle has retained plenty of links with the game in the UK not least through his two sons.
Goaltender Jackson recently impressed for Nottingham Panthers in the Elite Series and will head off to Riga on Sunday as part of the Great Britain squad competing at the World Championships
Younger sibling Brandon, played alongside his brother for the Steelers in the 2018-19 season before enjoying a stellar season for Telford Tigers in NIHL National the following year before the coronavirus pandemic brought an end to all hockey.
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