Leeds Chiefs open debut NIHL National season with curtain-raising derby against Sheffield Steeldogs

SAM ZAJAC admits it will be an emotional moment when he leeds his Leeds Chiefs out for the first ever time when they kick their inaugural season off with a Yorkshire derby at Sheffield Steeldogs.

Saturday, 27th July 2019, 1:06 am
Hull Pirates and Sheffield Steeldogs will provide derby competition for Leeds Chiefs in 2019-20. Picture supplied by Steeldogs

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Today's release of the 2019-20 NIHL National schedule pits the Chiefs against one of their main northern conference rivals with the clash on Sunday, September 15 being the curtain-raising fixture for the entire season, with all other teams not starting until the following weekend.

Fans of the Chiefs, however, will have a slightly longer wait to see their team in action on home ice with their first home game not being staged until Sunday, November 3 - again against the Steeldogs - as work continues on the new Elland Road arena.

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Leeds Chiefs will start their first-ever season with a Yorkshire derby against Sheffield Steeldogs on September 14.

The Chiefs' first meeting with their other Yorkshire rivals, Hull Pirates, will be in East Yorkshire on Sunday, October 20, with Jason Hewitt's team first playing at Leeds on Saturday, November 23.

The festive season is always a busy period of any hockey campaign, with Leeds travelling to Hull on Sunday, December 22 before hosting Telford Tigers on Saturday, December 28 ahead of a trip to Bracknell 24 hours later.

One big date for the calendar will be the New Year's Eve clash at Sheffield ahead of welcoming in 2020 with a visit from Hull.

Leeds Chiefs' player-coach, Sam Zajac, pictured last season for Whitley Bay. Picture courtesy of Colin Lawson.

The last home game of the regular season will be against Raiders on Saturday, March 22 before Zajac and his players round off their campaign with a trip to Peterborough a day later.

"It's always an exciting part of the year and we now know we’ve got a big rivalry game at Sheffield to open things up, it will just be a one-game weekend so we can put all of our focus into that game," said Zajac.

"It always does feel like a long summer once the season ends, but we’ve had so much to get through here that it has really flown by. The closer we get, the more excited we will get and speaking to the players they are all raring to go. If we could start tomorrow we would, so we’re really looking forward to it.

"It will be a massive moment when we first step out on the ice as the Chiefs, I’m sure it will be quite emotional as well. It will have been a long time coming and it is obviously making history with it being the first competitive game for the club."

On the delay to the start of the home schedule for the cheifs, Planet Ice Leeds' business development manager Heather McDermott said: "All 26 homes games will be played at Leeds, we just didn’t want to be in a position where we had to play home games elsewhere. We want to ensure that everything that needs to be is in place for a grand opening night for that first home game.

“The NLMG have been very accommodating in terms of the schedule and we are really looking forward to that first home game in November against our friends and rivals from South Yorkshire.

"We would like to thank all of our fans for their support as we prepare for what will be an action-packed inaugural season. We look forward to bringing the Chiefs home to Leeds for our fans in November.”