Leeds Chiefs keen to make first strike against MK Lightning

IT would be far too early in the season and foolish to see tonight’s clash between Leeds Chiefs and Milton Keynes Lightning as a ‘basement battle’ – but there is some early, added significance to the fixture.

Saturday, 28th September 2019, 7:45 am
Updated Sunday, 29th September 2019, 2:36 am
Radek Meidl will step back out on famliar ice on Saturday night against former club, Milton Keynes Lightning. Picture: Steve Brodie

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Tonight’s clash in Buckinghamshire brings together the only two NIHL National teams without a win to their name in this inaugural season.

Given that there are still 50 games remaining, there is certainly nothing to worry about just yet for either team, but Sam Zajac is keen for his side not to be the only one looking for a win after tonight’s encounter.

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Preparations for this weekend have been stepped up in the Chiefs camp these past few days, with a longer trip scheduled tomorrow to take on Bracknell Bees.

In all, Zajac and his players will cover just over 700 miles on the road, but the player-coach insists his team is just happy to be playing back-to-back fixtures.

Canadian forward Andres Kopstals has impressed for Leeds Chiefs. Picture: Chris Stratford

“This is what we’re used to as players and, to be honest, the guys are looking forward to getting back into the usual routine of two games every weekend,” said Zajac. “Last Sunday at Telford, the legs went a bit in the third and it probably showed a little that we’d only been playing one game per weekend. So we’re looking forward to back-to-backs for the first time.”

The Lightning find themselves back in the second tier after two seasons of struggle in the Elite League. They are, essentially, a new team operating under new ownership.

As a result, Zajac believes his team will be coming up against hosts similar to his own, given that both rosters have tried to find the right blend of youth and experience.

Last Sunday, while the Chiefs were losing 5-2 at Telford Tigers - to add to their 3-1 defeat to Sheffield Steeldogs the previous week – Lightning were suffering their second defeat of the weekend, going down 6-4 to the Steeldogs, 24 hours after a 5-4 defeat at home to Hull Pirates.

OPTIMISTIC: Sam Zajac, Leeds Chiefs' player-coach. Picture: Steve Brodie

“Come the end of Saturday’s game, there will be just the one team without a win this season and we want to make sure it won’t be us,” said Zajac.

“They’ve got a lot of new guys and they are, like us, trying to blend a lot of new guys together who perhaps aren’t familiar with each other.

“They’ve kind of built the same as us, with it being a new league and new era for them so they need to try and get that blend right, for the older guys to show the younger guys the ropes.

“Both rosters have been built similarly, we’ve both got good speed up front, some good leadership at the back and both have got good goalies.”

One Chiefs player with an added incentive to get the win tonight will be import forward Radek Meidl, who played in the EIHL with the Lightning last season, scoring 20 points, including 10 goals, in 52 games.

“I’ve been picking Radek’s brains a bit on the guys that are still there from last season – he’s really looking forward to it,” added Zajac. “We were at team gym session on Thursday and he pulled me to one side and said: ‘We’re not losing on Saturday’ – that is exactly what you want to hear from one of your top players.”

Zajac is pleased with the impact of both his import signings so far, with Canadian centre Andres Kopstals also impressing.

“Radek’s blended in well and is how we expected hime to be – he’s a big presence,” said Zajac, who said he will tweak his forward lines this weekend. “Both him and Andres have fitted in really well and we’re really pleased.”