Leeds Chiefs close the gap on NIHL National playoff rivals
THE weekend may have ended with them on the wrong end of a 16-goal thriller in Essex, but Leeds Chiefs headed home up the M1 on Sunday night knowing they had redeemed themselves after the most challenging week on the ice in their short history.
But if there is one trait this team seems to have in abundance, it is character - given the long list of obstacles that have been placed in their path since before the start of the season.
In essence, player-coach Sam Zajac got exactly what he was looking for. Okay, it wasn't a four-point weekend but, at least on Saturday, they were able to enjoy a quick, sweet taste of revenge over Bracknell who departed Blackburn Ice Arena on the back of a 5-2 defeat.
And while this forever short-benched team may have eventually gone down 10-6 at Raiders IHC last night, again their battling qualities came to the fore, the game never really a foregone conclusion until about 10 minutes or so remained.
Overall, with Bracknell also losing last night when going down 5-4 at home to a resurgent Milton Keynes Lightning, it means the Chiefs are slightly better off in terms of their playoff hopes this morning, the gap between them and the Bees now two less at 10 points.
It gives them renewed hope that they can stay in the race, with their Elland Road home opener against Sheffield Steeldogs on Friday, January 31, likely to provide further impetus.
“We came off second-best in what was a bit of a mad shoot-out last night, but we’ve come out of the weekend slightly better off than where we were going into it,” said Zajac.
“That is a massive thing for us and not just points-wise but performance-wise because we owed it to ourselves to get back to basics and put in 60 minutes both nights.
“And we definitely did that with seven forwards and four-five D working their socks off all weekend - not one guy was a passenger. We spoke about that before both games, about how we need everyone pulling together in order to be successful.
“If we have one or two guys take a night off with the lack of depth we have at the minute, then we are not going to win many games. But both nights we had everyone pulling on that rope which was good to see.”
Last night, the Chiefs found themselves with their backs against the wall in Romford early on, trailing 4-2 at the first period break Adam Barnes’s fourth-minute effort added to by Lewis Houston’s first of the evening at 18.31.
Raiders restored their three-goal advantage through Blahoslav Novak’s 22nd-minute strike, but the Chiefs quickly rallied pulling back to within one goal just after the halfway when a second for Houston at 28.39 was soon followed by a power play strike from defenceman Lewis Baldwin.
But, again, the hosts pulled clear, Novak’s second on the power play making it 6-4 at 36.28 with Lukas Sladkovsky extending the lead just over a minute later.
Import forward Andres Kopstals gave the Chiefs hope at 45.23 but two more efforts - one from Sladkovsky and a second for Jake Sylvester - effectively killed off the visitors, Houston grabbing his hat-trick before Brandon Ayliffe completing the scoring in a quite extraordinary game.