Leeds Chiefs target weekend double of firsts against Telford Tigers and Hull Pirates

AS the saying goes, there is a first time for everything. Leeds Chiefs will be hoping they can emerge from this particular weekend with a double helping.

By Phil Harrison
Saturday, 11th January 2020, 10:57 am
WE MEET AGAIN: Luke Boothroyd battles for puck control in November's clash with Telford Tigers in Shropshire. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.
WE MEET AGAIN: Luke Boothroyd battles for puck control in November's clash with Telford Tigers in Shropshire. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

Facing off against NIHL National leaders Telford Tigers on ‘home’ ice in Solihull today before making the shorter trip across Yorkshire to take on Hull Pirates 24 hours later, is never going to be touted as an easy 48 hours, by any team - never mind one that is bottom of the standings and never-endingly short-benched.

But - a first period capitulation aside in Hull back in early November aside - the Chiefs have matched up well against both opponents this season.

For all their efforts, however, only one point has been secured by Sam Zajac’s team, coming in a 5-4 overtime defeat in the first meeting with the Pirates back in October.

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Throw in a 6-4 defeat to Jason Hewitt’s team in Blackburn and it has left Zajac and his players a frustrated bunch over that particular derby series, with the same being said for the four games so far against Tom Watkins’ Telford.

Each time, Zajac’s team have run their Shropshire rivals close, each time they have emerged with nothing to show for their efforts.

In Blackburn two weeks ago, the Chiefs lost out 4-2, but there would have been little argument from anyone inside the building had the hosts taken at least a point.

Still, unfortunate as they seem to have been against these two particlar conference rivals, Zajac - buoyed by the arrival of import forward Patrik Valcak - is not dwelling on what has gone, only what his team can achieve in the encounters that remain.

Leeds Chiefs' player-coach Sam Zajac. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

“We can certainly take heart from the way we have played against Telford so far this season,” said Zajac. “At the end of every weekend when you catch up and see what’s gone on elsewhere, Telford just seem to keep trucking along, doing their thing - they’ve built a great squad down there.

“They are tough to play against because they are so well-structured and so deep - so the fact that we’re not a million miles away from them is encouraging.”

Telford head to Solihull seven points clear at the top of the table and with a game in hand on second-placed Swindon Wildcats. Of course, with just under half of the regular season remaining there is plenty of time for other title candidates to emerge.

The same logic can be applied to the lower playoff positions, one of which the Chiefs are still hoping to clinch, despite currently being 10 points adrift of the eighth and final post-season spot.

NEW FACE: Leeds Chiefs' new import forward Patrik Valcak. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

Breaking their duck against either opponent this weekend will hopefully close that gap further, depending on results elsewhere.

Zajac expects to come up a slightly different-looking Hull side in East Yorkshire compared to one they faced in the 6-4 loss in Blackburn, partly due to former GB international Matty Davies expected to return from a long injury layoff.

Import forward Peter Fabus was jettisoned earlier this week before the Pirates announced Matt Bissonnette as his replacement, prompting a reunion with his former Mancester Storm team-mate Valcak, the pair playing alongside each during the 2016-17 season in Altrincham.

Bissonnette played for Dundee Stars in the Elite League last season, posting 29 points, including nine goals, in an injury-affected campaign.

STEPPING UP: Defenceman Steve Duncombe should log more minutes after coming through last weekend unscathed after being out for almost a month with a lower-body injury. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

“We’ve matched up okay against Hull, took them to overtime, had a late loss against them in Blackburn and then we have that one blowout game at theirs where we were not at our best,” added Zajac. “So we feel like we owe Hull one because we’ve ran them close a couple of times and not quite got over the line.

“Matty Davies will be making his long-awaited return it seems, so I’m sure he’ll be desperate to get back into it having missed a big chunk of the season.

“He’s a big player for them, fantastic offensively and very tough to defend against so we’re going to have to come up with a plan to stifle him because I know he’ll be hungry to get among the points given the amount of time he’s been out.”

To help with the body count, at least on Sunday, forward Richie Haggar – who scored on his Chiefs debut in the New Year’s Eve defeat to Sheffield Steeldogs – could be in the Chiefs line-up to face the Pirates. It would represent something of a home match for the 28-year-old with his main club is NIHL 2 outfit Hull Jets.