Leeds Chiefs 4 Hull Pirates 6 - Testing week ends on frustrating low note for Chiefs
Now just under a third of the way for the season, the Chiefs’ 6-4 defeat at ‘home’ to Hull Pirates on Saturday night was tough to take, particularly as the ‘hosts’ had been two goals ahead with less than a minute to go into the second period.
Hull were level with two goals in six minutes, but the killer blow didn’t come until right near the end, the game-winning goal coming with less than two minutes on the clock, salt being vigorously rubbed into the wound by the visitors when they doubled their margin of victory with one second remaining.
The defeat came at the end of a tough week for the club, seeing a large chunk of their equipment stolen from the back of a van on Tuesday and then having it confirmed just before face-off that the earliest they can expect to play at their new Elland Road rink will be the middle of January. That is, no doubt, subject to further change.
The weekend ended on an even lower note when Raiders IHC’s win at second-placed Telford Tigers saw the gap between bottom-of-the-table Chiefs and the eighth and final playoff spot stretched to six points.
But, as previously mentioned, we are only around a third of the way through this NIHL National season.
Zajac rightly remains supportive of his gallant roster - re-tooled with some new equipment before face-off - but for the third time this season they were thwarted by a Hull team who went on to enjoy a welcome four-point weekend when winning by the same scoreline at home to Basingstoke Bison last night - moving into fourth in the standings overall.
“It was just the one game this weekend, so there was a lot riding on it for us,” said Zajac, who saw his team’s weekly practice session in Blackburn ruined due to that midweek theft of sticks, helmets and other protective gear.
“It was another game where we showed that, for large stretches, we can compete with any team in this league.
“With everything that has gone on this week, it has resulted in a heavily-disrupted preparation. But I thought we acquitted ourselves very well - it just came down to individual errors in the end which cost us what I know would have been a deserved share of the points.”
It was the Chiefs who got off to the perfect start, centre James Archer firing them into a 1-0 lead against his former club with just 76 seconds on the clock.
But Zajac’s opposite number Jason Hewitt was again to prove the biggest thorn in the side for the Chiefs, scoring the first of his three goals on the night at 14.22 to level proceedings.
It was the Pirates’ player-coach who put the visitors ahead early in the second, only for his former charge Archer to get the Chiefs back on the board just over two minutes later.
It was to prove the Chiefs period when two goals in under three minutes put them 4-2 to the good, Richard Bentham getting the go-ahead goal at 32.41 before teenager Ethan Hehir showed further progress when rifling in his second of the season.
But the Pirates halved the deficit when Lee Bonner was left with a simple chance with just 49 seconds to go until the buzzer.
Just over five minutes into the third, that man Hewitt - so often an inspiration to his players - struck again to haul his team level.
It appeared as if the Chiefs might emerge from their one-game weekend with at least a point for their efforts but, with 58.05 on the clock, import Peter Fabus jammed the puck home.
It was a cruel blow for the hosts, their frustration intensified slightly further when David Norris scored an empty-netter.