Leeds Chiefs left with big skates to fill as trio head through exit door
SAM ZAJAC acknowledges he has a tough job on his hands replacing departing forwards James Archer and Radek Meidl – but is confident he can fill the gaping hole left in Leeds Chiefs’ scoring.
Between them, regular line-mates Archer and Meidl contributed 20 goals and 35 assists in 20 games during what has been a tough start to life in NIHL National for Zajac’s team, who find themselves bottom of the standings and seven points adrift of the top eight playoff places.
The exit of the top line duo, along with that of teenage forward Brodie Jesson who is taking a break from the sport, leaves the Chiefs with just 12 skaters for this weekend’s double header against Basingstoke Bison.
Numbers may have been boosted by the signing of teenage forward Lewis Houston and return from injury of import forward Andres Kopstals, but the loss of experienced centre Archer and Czech Republic winger Meidl will still be a big concern for Chiefs’ fans.
Archer has returned to league rivals Hull Pirates, where he won a treble last year under player-coach Jason Hewitt, but it is not yet clear where Meidl’s next port of call will be.
Zajac admitted he had been left with two big holes to fill on his roster, but insisted he wouldn’t stand in the way of players who wished to move on.
The extra travelling for games and weekly practice sessions in Blackburn brought about by the fact the Chiefs are still waiting for their Elland Road rink to be completed was a factor in both players requesting to be released.
“Arch has been centreing that really effective top line we had with Radek and Adam Barnes, he’s been a big player for us,” said Zajac.
“He’s been one of the leaders on the ice and he has given it everything while he has been here.
“We’re a brand new club and we’ve had growing pains, obviously, and Arch has probably felt that more than some of the other guys as he’s older, a bit more experienced and has been around all the leagues with different teams.
“He obviously felt that now was the right time to move on and I think a large part of it was the delay in the rink - the travelling has been tough on everyone and it’s not easy, especially when you’ve got a family and being away from the kids several nights a week can’t be easy.
“Radek’s gone for similar reasons. When you look at our roster he’s probably the guy that other teams worried about the most, and they are both going to be tough to replace. We wish them both the best.”
Despite the setback, Zajac has already held talks with a number of British players and imports showing an interest in coming to Leeds.
“We’d got Lewis Houston in before we found out about Arch so he isn’t really a replacement, he was an addition, so we’re back to square one numbers-wise,” added Zajac. “But we’ve already spoken to several potential replacements, both imports and Brits and we hope to have somebody in very soon.
“Experienced, quality British guys like Arch are at a premium.
“We’re obviously working to a budget here and we’ve been scouring the leagues, but, realistically, until that rink opens guys that are looking to move teams probably have better options elsewhere.”