LEEDS CHIEFS player-coach Sam Zajac hopes the city’s youngsters will take inspiration from Great Britain’s exploits in the on-going IIHF World Championships.
Against the odds, Pete Russell’s team were able to retain their top-flight status on Monday night after a remarkable 4-3 comeback win in overtime against France.
Having lost their first six games in Slovakia, GB’s players were written off ahead of the game, coming up against a side sitting nine places above them in the world rankings and who had been in the elite group since promotion in 2007.
Zajac admits he was like thousands of other ice hockey fans back in the UK who were either sat in front of their TVs or listening to the radio or online as the dramatic events unfolded inside Kosice’s Steel Arena.
And the 29-year-old, who is in the process of putting together the city’s first-ever ice hockey team in readiness for the 2019-20 National League season, is convinced events in Slovakia can only have a positive effect on the UK game.
While Zajac’s main focus will be on the senior team, he will also have some input into the new rink’s Hockey Excellence initiative and Junior Development programme.
“It was incredible to watch, I was jumping off my sofa when that winning goal went in during overtime,” said Zajac, appointed as player-coach by Elland Road rink owners Planet Ice last month.
“There are no negatives about it, it was inspirational and everybody involved with the game in this country is hoping that the legacy of us being in that top pool of nations will help inspire more youngsters to take up the sport.
“It would be great for us in Leeds and great for the wider hockey community if that is what happens.
“The more people you can get playing can only be a good thing for the future of the sport and the more chance you then stand of unearthing those elite players that we need for our national team down the line.”
Anyone interested in finding out more about Leeds’ hockey development initiative for youngsters can contact Heather McDermott on email at: firstname.lastname@example.org