Leeds Knights v Sheffield Steeldogs: Covid and injury give Greg Wood headache ahead of derby battle

GREG WOOD admits he is scrambling around trying to put together a Sheffield Steeldogs team to contest the Boxing Day derby with Yorkshire rivals Leeds Knights.

By Phil Harrison
Friday, 24th December 2021, 7:45 am
Updated Friday, 24th December 2021, 9:13 am
SELECTION NIGHTMARE: Sheffield Steeldogs' head coach, Greg Wood. picture courtesy of Peter Best/Steeldogs Media.
SELECTION NIGHTMARE: Sheffield Steeldogs' head coach, Greg Wood. picture courtesy of Peter Best/Steeldogs Media.

The Steeldogs head coach was left understandably frustrated after his team were left with little option but to play Wednesday night’s NIHL National clash with Telford Tigers, despite only having nine skaters.

Not surprisingly, the Tigers prevailed 6-2, gaining a valuable two points on a visiting team who many regard as one of their main rivals for the regular season title.

A combination of injuries, plus a handful of positive Covid tests on the day of the game were behind the shortage of bodies, with the situation unlikely to improve in time for Sunday’s trip to Elland Road.

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Of the nine skaters Wood had at his disposal – in addition to sole netminder Dimitri Zimozdra – five were aged 19 or under with one, Sam Colton, making his second-tier debut.

Wood says he will be forced to field a similarly under-strength line-up against the Knights, with his efforts in trying to bring in additional bodies proving difficult, given the time of year.

“Personally, I think it was unacceptable that we had to travel with the numbers that we had, but there is nothing we could do,” said Wood.

“I think consideration should be taken into player welfare, especially at this time of year. Not only that, but with so few players, what is the risk of somebody getting injured playing that many minutes, particularly after having played three in three. It just doesn’t make sense at all.

Matt Bissonnette, right, was missing for Sheffield Steeldogs on both Sunday and Wednesday after suffering an injury in Saturday's road win at milton Keynes. Picture: Pete Best/Steeldogs Media.

“And it was frustrating that we’re in a position to chase down a league title and we’re gifting points away to one of our main rivals.”

For Wood, already missing first-line forwards James Spurr and Matt Bissonnette after they were targeted during the 5-2 win at Milton Keynes Lightning, the only positive from Wednesday was his younger charges gaining invaluable ice time and experience.

“On the flipside it was great to get them some meaningful minutes – they competed really well and played hard,” added Wood. “They did the best they could in very difficult circumstances and I was really proud of every single player.”

The Boxing Day clash will be the fifth competitive encounter between the two teams, with the Knights having the upper-hand so far with three wins.

A pre-season challenge game went the way of Leeds 3-2 at Elland Road, but the Steeldogs drew first blood when something was on the line with a 6-3 win at Ice Sheffield in mid-October to see them finish top of the Autumn Cup group standings.

The two then met in a two-legged semi-final, with Leeds following up an impressive 3-1 win on the road with a thrilling 6-5 victory on home ice two nights later to win 9-6 on aggregate and book their place in the final to face Swindon Wildcats.

Two weeks later, Leeds travelled to South Yorkshire again and came away with a hard-fought 2-1 victory.