Hull Pirates 4 Leeds Chiefs 2 - Ground lost but self-belief remains for Chiefs playoff push
WHILE THERE will have been a great deal of frustration for Leeds Chiefs to lose ground in their push for the NIHL National playoffs at the weekend, player-coach Sam Zajac refused to be too downbeat heading into the Christmas break.
The highs of their four-point haul from last weekend’s trip to Basingstoke Bison were quickly forgotten by the Chiefs as defeats to Hull Pirates and fellow strugglers Raiders IHC cast them further adrift at the foot of the table.
As it stands, Leeds are now seven points off Raiders, the team immediately abovbe them but, most crucially, they are a further two points off Milton Keynes Lightning, who currently occupy the eighth and final playoff spot.
There remains plenty of time for the Chiefs to ensure that they get extended use out of their Elland Road rink when it finally opens its doors on January 31 by making it to the post-season - 28 games in fact.
But four-point hauls for the Raiders and the Lightning mean the West Yorkshire club will remain bottom going into 2020 no matter what happens in the three games that remain between now and the end of the year.
“It was frustrating points-wise, it wasn’t what we were looking for, obviously,” said Zajac.
“On Saturday, we had a big chance to close that gap on the teams above us down to something a lot more manageable, but I think at times we struggled with the pace they played at, we found that frustrating.
“We were great in the last 5-10 minutes and really put them under a lot of pressure but their new goalie stood on his end towards the end and got them their two points.
“But we’re still short on bodies and are still missing two defencemen in Steve Duncombe and Bobby Streetly and we’re still down to one import.
"Over the whole weekend we probably lacked that offensive killer instinct and on Saturday, their new import Erik Piatek was probably the difference, he had 2+1 and he could create something out of nothing and we were maybe missing that spark a little bit from our game.
“We obviously look out for the other results and what is going on around the league but we’re not fixated on it and it is still very much in our hands.
“I’ve got no doubt about the guys we have in the room here and their desire to make the playoffs and ensure we extend the season by a couple more weeks.”
Leeds’ two previous visits to East Yorkshire had both ended in defeat but from contrasting performances, the first clash seeing them edged out 5-4 in overtime back in October before the
Following month’s visit saw them blasted away in a first-period blitz before eventually losing 6-2.
Last night’s encounter was more reminiscent of the first visit, the Chiefs getting off to the perfect start when Adam Barnes got on the scoresheet with just 91 seconds on the clock.
But that early euphoria was gone by the time the first period break came around, Pirates’ player-coach Jason Hewitt dragging his team level just after 10 minutes.
Lee Bonner then edged the hosts in front just over two minutes later before Hewitt’s second of the night pole-axed the visitors with 16.14 on the clock.
But the Chiefs remained in the hunt and gave themselves a lifeline when Richard Bentham struck at 37.51 with his fifth of the season.
It meant there was plenty to play for going into the final 20, until a familiar face came back to haunt the Chiefs in the shape of James Archer.
The 31-year-old returned to Hull for a second stint having asked to be released by the Chiefs 10 days ago and it was he who struck at 44.24 to restore the hosts’ two-goal cushion which, despite their best efforts, could not be erased by the Chiefs.