Leeds Knights owner Steve Nell putting his plans in place for bright future in NIHL National

AS FAR as Leeds Knights owner Steve Nell is concerned, Kieran Brown is just the first piece of the puzzle he has put in place for the 2022-23 NIHL National season.

By Phil Harrison
Saturday, 5th February 2022, 10:18 am
Kieran Brown, pictured celebrating scoring in the recent 4-3 win over Sheffield Steeldogs, is a key piece of the Leeds Knights jigsaw for next season 
Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Kieran Brown, pictured celebrating scoring in the recent 4-3 win over Sheffield Steeldogs, is a key piece of the Leeds Knights jigsaw for next season Picture: Bruce Rollinson

That Nell was so keen to tie the 20-year-old forward down for a second season should be no surprise at all, given the talented winger’s production rate this season, one that sees him as the second-tier’s top points scorer – with 49 goals and 49 assists in 41 games – going into this weekend’s home double-header against Peterborough Phantoms and Basingstoke Bison.

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Nell revealed on Friday night that talks are planned with all of the Knights’ roster in the coming weeks – some with certain players having already been held – with a view to putting together next season’s roster.

Ryan Aldridge has impressed since being appointed as interim head coach at Leeds Knights - but will be still be there for 2022-23? Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Goaltender Sam Gospel is likely to be next on Nell’s recruitment list for 2022-23.

Once the ‘transfer window’ closed at the end of January, teams are not allowed to sign players from other teams until the season is over, but that doesn’t stop clubs from tying down players already on their books for next season.

Of course, like any team at the end of any season, there will be changes and the Knights will be no different.

But it is unlikely to be major change, Nell having signed the majority of the current roster himself prior to the arrival of former coach Dave Whistle and with it being no secret how impressed he has been by their efforts so far this season.

Steve Nell, team owner of Leeds Knights. Picture: Steve Riding.

“We are planning to make more announcements over the coming weeks and we’ll be talking to all the players about our plans for next season,” said Nell last night.

“We are obviously concentrating on the here and now as much as anything, our performances, our results and building towards the playoffs.

“But we also have to plan ahead and look at next season and that obviously includes our roster and making sure we keep hold of all the players that we want to.”

Kieran Brown signed for the 2022-23 season with Leeds Knights earlier this week. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Capturing Brown was not only key because of his remarkable points-production but also because having a player of his calibre around for another season will help convince both current players to remain alongside him, as well as help attract any new faces Nell wishes to bring in.

“Having somebody like Kieran does make us a more attractive proposition for other, quality players,” added Nell. “Everybody wants to play with good players and Kieran is the best forward in the league and somebody who is only going to get better.”

Another key issue to resolve will be that of the head coach. Since coming in, Ryan Aldridge – who has worked for Nell extensively before both at Swindon Wildcats and Okanagan Hockey Academy – has overseen an impressive run of form, one that has seen him deliver four wins in six games.

But when Nell chose to replace Whistle as head coach with Aldridge on January 12, he was keen to stress it was on an ‘interim’ basis.

It therefore remains unclear how long Aldridge – brother-in-law to GB head coach Pete Russell – will indeed be in place, but any further change behind the bench before the end of the current season is not required as the playoffs loom large.