Joe Coulter gets his wish as he is brought into the Leeds Knights fold
Having taken the bold decision to step outside his native Scotland for the first time when signing for Leeds Chiefs in the summer of 2019, the 25-year-old centre quickly felt at home – even though it would prove to be some time before he and his team-mates could call Elland Road Ice Arena just that.
The frustrations of a tough debut campaign for Sam Zajac’s team - that lack of home ice being a primary factor – were replaced last summer by the realisation that there would be no follow-up ‘regular’ season for any of the 10 NIHL National teams as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
Like many other players from the second tier, Coulter was forced to watch from afar as Sheffield Steeldogs, Swindon Wildcats and Milton Keynes Lightning played in the behind-closed-doors ‘Streaming Series’ in October, then again earlier this year when five teams – including Sheffield and Swindon – contested the Spring Cup.
But the last 15 months haven’t been a total wipeout for Coulter and others like him, recent months having seen him lace up for NIHL North Two outfit Widnes Wild, first in the North Cup, then the Three Rivers Cup.
The games, while not of the standard Coulter quickly adapted to with the Chiefs after seven years with Solway Sharks, at least allowed him to return to playing competitive hockey.
But at the back of his mind was always the hope that he would return to Elland Road to continue with a project he was in on from the very start. And as soon as he heard of Swindon owner Steve Nell’s intentions for the rebranded Leeds Knights – with experienced head coach and GM Dave Whistle on board – he was desperate to be involved.
“I always wanted to come back to Leeds,” said Coulter.
“But whether that was going to happen, nobody really knew with everything that has gone on in the past year or so – there were times when I did worry whether I would come back.
“But with the new ownership and the direction they want to go and when you look at what Steve has done at Swindon and what Dave has done as coach and a GM, it’s exciting again and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Coulter has been one of a number of players to hold a face-to-face meeting with team owner Nell and is the fourth signing announced, following in the footsteps of Sam Gospel, Lewis Baldwin and Kieran Brown. An assistant captain for the Chiefs under Zajac, contributing 20 points including seven goals during that inaugural campaign, he immediately bought in to the plans Nell outlined to him.
“If you asked any guy – and there were growing rumours that there was going to be some kind of takeover – about who you would want to come in, then you would have said Steve Nell, simply because of the work he has done at Swindon Wildcats,” added Coulter. “You look at how they do everything, the off-ice, the backroom staff and then you look at the product that they put on the ice and it is a stellar example of how a club should be run.
“And if that is what they can do in a town like Swindon, imagine what they can do in a city the size of Leeds.
“And, speaking to people who know Dave, it sounds like he’s got man-management down to a tee and his cv speaks for itself in terms of development and winning trophies.
“It is a huge name to get in. I don’t know what other names were on Steve’s shortlist for coaches, but I don’t see how you can do much better than that – I’m looking forward to working with him.”
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