Leeds Chiefs fight off interest from NIHL National rivals to keep hold of star turn Lewis Houston

GIVEN the impact he had on Leeds Chiefs last season in such a short space of time, it will come as no surprise that Lewis Houston attracted interest from several NIHL National rivals this summer.

Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 6:07 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 4:57 pm
LEADING ROLE: Lewis Houston had a big impact during the half-season he spent with Leeds Chiefs in the 2019-20 NIHL National season. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss.

But, in reality, there was never any danger of the 19-year-old Scottish forward going anywhere.

Having landed south of the border in such spectacular fashion – he scored an overtime winner on his first weekend in a Chiefs’ shirt at Basingstoke –Houston went on to be one of the season’s success stories for the sport’s newest organisation, posting 22 goals, including 15 goals, in just 24 appearances.

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Lewis Houston battles for the puck against Hull Pirates in February at Elland Road Ice Arena. Picture: Dean Woolley.

For somebody taking his first step up to the UK game’s second tier, it was nothing short of a remarkable return, with Chiefs’ player-coach Sam Zajac quickly becoming aware that he needed to tie the youngster down for another season as quickly as possible.

Agreement was reached at an early stage between player and coach, meaning that when enquiries did come in from elsewhere, there was little chance of the sought-after teenager heading through the Elland Road Ice Arena exit door.

Now Zajac believes he has a player on his roster who can go on to become a real star in NIHL National, as well as higher up in the game.

“Lewis is a guy that is in high demand, we knew he would be,” said Zajac. “That small time that he had with us last season, really did put him in the shop window and credit to him.

GETTING ALONG: Lewis Houston quickly struck up a fruitful relationship with Adam Barnes, right, after arriving at Leeds Chiefs from Solway Sharks in mid-December last year. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss

“Coaches around this league know a good player when they see one and a lot of them knew he was one such player.

“So he had offers to go elsewhere, but we got him tied down for next season quite early. And he is really transparent, he let me know that a few other teams had been in for him.

“So, in some respects, it was a bit of a coup to get him back with us given the interest there was in him.

“He exceeded our expectations of him last season and I do believe Lewis can be a star, not just in this league, but higher up, too. The future is really bright for him.”

Leeds Chiefs' player-coach believes Lewis Houston can be a star in NIHL National and go on to play at higher level in years to come. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

For Zajac, it wasn’t just Houston’s points-scoring ability that made him a must-sign for next season, but his ability to also make those out on the ice with him better players.

Most notable after his arrival from Solway Sharks in mid-December was the potent partnership he quickly developed with fellow forward Adam Barnes, who finished the campaign as the Chiefs’ top scorer with 50 points, including 26 goals.

“Him and Barnesey just hit it off straightaway which was great to see,” added Zajac. “But Lewis is the kind of player that people find easy to play with because he’ll do a lot of the dirty work that maybe goes unnoticed.

“And I think a lot of the other forwards on the team next season will be asking to be given a chance to play with him because he really does make their job easier.”

As for Houston, he believes he will be returning to a more competitive Chiefs team.

“There really was only one decision for me and it was very easy to agree to come back to Leeds,” said Houston.

“I’m convinced already that we’re going to be a far more competitive team. Even with the players that have been announced already, it’s looking better than last season.”

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