Leeds Chiefs boss Sam Zajac happy to help players find temporary roster spots as Covid-19 delays NIHL National season

SAM ZAJAC has said he would be happy for any of his Leeds Chiefs’ players to try and secure hockey elsewhere until the NIHL National gets the green light to proceed with the 
2020-21 season.

By Phil Harrison
Friday, 9th October 2020, 8:25 am
Leeds Chiefs' player-coach, Sam Zajac. 
Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss
Leeds Chiefs' player-coach, Sam Zajac. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss

With no start date in sight for any level of the British game due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the likelihood of any kind of season seems as far away as ever.

A number of British players based in the top-flight, full-time Elite League have already managed to secure spots on rosters elsewhere in Europe, with Sheffield Steelers’ GB international Rob Dowd the latest to do so earlier this week when he secured a deal with Eppan/Appiano in the Italian second tier.

And even though it is less likely for players from the part-time, second-tier NIHL National to be able to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Dowd and other GB internationals such as Cardiff’s Mark Richardson, Zajac would happily help anyone from his team trying to secure a temporary deal elsewhere.

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Some of Leeds Chiefs players may try to find a roster spot elsewhere - most likely in Europe - as they continue to wait for the NIHL National 2020-21 season to be given the green light. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

“We have said to the guys that if they wanted to try and find something short-term, then we’ll help them try and do that if there was a league abroad that manages to go ahead,” said Zajac. “If that was something that they thought they could make work, then we’d be happy to try and facilitate that for them.

“But, that being said, there are not a lot of jobs out there. The player market is pretty saturated with several leagues around the world that would normally be going ahead, not starting right now, including our own and the Elite League.

“The simple equation is that there are more players than there are available spots right now, so it is difficult for guys.

“But if they can manage to find something then we would be happy to help them, on the understanding they would come back to us should our season manage to get started.

British ice hockey is currently at Phase Three while it awaits further government guidance over Covid-19 restrictions. Graphic: EIHA.

“Maybe we could work it like a loan or something, I don’t know exactly at this stage but we’d be more than happy to let them go off and make some money, while getting some hockey in their legs ahead of when - hopefully - we do manage to get going over here.”

The Chiefs’ player-coach has completed his roster for the 2020-21 season, although more than half the names on it are yet to be revealed.

For now, regular, light, practise sessions are taking place at the team’s Elland Road rink, while governing body the English Ice Hockey Association’s ‘return to play’ programme remains firmly stuck in phase three.

There was hope the sport would be able to move to phase four this month - further enabling teams to prepare for the hoped-for start to a competitive season in January - but last month’s government U-turn on pilot schemes for spectators being allowed back into various sports events, including football and rugby league, has ended those hopes.

Unlike the EIHL which has cancelled its 10-team regular season due to the current social distancing measures that prevent capacity crowds at games - something they require in order to operate - NIHL National teams can survive with lower attendances, although they would still require a significant relaxing of the rules in order to make any kind of season possible.

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