How Leeds Knights may have been handed timely Autumn Cup Final edge over Swindon Wildcats

SIDELINED for good reason he may be, but nobody will be taking a keener interest in the first leg of the Autumn Cup final tomorrow night than Leeds Knights’ captain Sam Zajac.

By Phil Harrison
Thursday, 16th December 2021, 6:55 am
Updated Thursday, 16th December 2021, 9:48 am
MISSING OUT: Leeds Knights captain Sam Zajac - right
 - in action against Swindon during pre-season. 
Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft/Swindon Wildcats
MISSING OUT: Leeds Knights captain Sam Zajac - right - in action against Swindon during pre-season. Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft/Swindon Wildcats

The 32-year-old defenceman missed last weekend’s games against Telford Tigers and Raiders IHC and is not expected to feature for his team again until the Boxing Day derby meeting at Elland Road against Sheffield Steeldogs.

His long-awaited wedding next week – already cancelled twice because of lockdown restrictions brought on by the pandemic – means Zajac had to reduce his contact with as many people as possible to ensure he is available for the big day.

And while the two-legged final with Swindon comes an understandable second in terms of his priorities, he will be watching the live stream with close interest back home in Manchester, where he has recently moved to with bride-to-be Katie.

BACK IN THE GAME: Leeds Knights' netminder, Sam Gospel.

“I’ll definitely be tuning in and watching that first leg on Friday,” said Zajac. “It’s going to be tough watching it online but I’ve got full faith in the boys.

“It’s been a fairly even series of games between the two this season. Swindon are a good team and they are a form team at the minute and top of the league.”

Leeds go into the clash emerging from a horrid injury run which saw them slide as far down as second-bottom in the NIHL National standings.

But the return from injury of key players in the past two weeks – including forward Cole Shudra, defenceman Ross Kennedy and goaltender Sam Gospel – has come at just the right time, giving the Knights an opportunity to prove their quality, insists Zajac.

“I don’t think the past six to eight weeks have been a fair reflection of where we are at or what we’re about,” added Zajac, who played for Swindon for part of the 2017-18 season. “Having so many key guys out, it’s been a case of almost treading water and trying to just pick up points where we can. Starting to get these guys back definitely gives us a different look as a team.”