Leeds Chiefs urged to make Elland Road place to fear

SAM GOSPEL says Leeds Chiefs need to ensure their new Elland Road rink becomes an intimidating place for other teams to visit from the very first puck drop.

Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 8:33 am
Leeds Chiefs' netminder Sam Gospel. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

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The Chiefs have spent their entire NIHL National season so far playing on the road, but will finally get to skate out at their new home this Friday when they welcome Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Steeldogs (7.30pm).

Only half of the rink will be open to spectators but the derby encounter is already a sellout, with any extra tickets that may be released between now and Friday expected to be snapped up straightaway.

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NEARLY THERE: Leeds ice rink as pictured on Tuesday via Twitter. Picture by Planet Ice Leeds/Simon McGuinness.

More than 600 people are expected to be in the rink for the first-ever face-off, a moment that has taken far too long to become a reality.

The past few months have seen several players come and go on player-coach Sam Zajac’s roster but he has largely retained the core of the squad he signed last year in a frantic summer of recruitment when putting together the city’s first-ever team.

The Chiefs currently sit bottom of the regular season standings and have 17 games remaining in their inaugural campaign.

They are currently 10 points off eighth-placed Raiders IHC, the team currently sitting in the final playoff spot but, with two games in hand and another meeting between the two to come this season – in Leeds on March 21 – there remains hope of Zajac’s team making the post-season at the first attempt.

Leeds Chiefs' player-coach, Sam Zajac.

In their favour is the fact that 12 of those remaining games are at Elland Road, making it all the more important, says netminder Gospel, that the Chiefs quickly establish superiority on home ice.

“We need to make home advantage count from the off,” said Gospel, on a two-way deal with the Chiefs from Elite League outfit Nottingham Panthers. “As soon as we start playing there, we need to go after teams and make their lives tough.

“We’re probably the most northern team in the league, so it is going to be a fair distance for the majority of the league to come to play us that is something we need to use to our advantage.

“The engagement with the fans, our warm-ups, the match-night entertainment –it all needs to add up to make sure that Elland Road is a place where nobody wants to come and play.”

Gospel cites the former home of Elite League team Cardiff Devils as an example of the kind of hostile atmosphere that Leeds need to create in their new home.

Up until the Devils moved to a purpose-built arena four years ago, they played out of a ‘temporary’ rink in the city, nicknamed the ‘Big Blue Tent’ which, when combined with a physically imposing team under then head coach Gerad Adams, became a place the majority of their top-flight rivals struggled to deal with.

“Nobody really wanted to play Cardiff when they played there,” added Gospel. “And we, as a group, need to try and emulate that by using our energy and determination, to make that extra step, push that bit harder and get the home crowd going and on our side.”

Gospel said when news came through that the first batch of 500 tickets for the game had sold out within a day, it had provided a massive boost for the Chiefs’ players, making them realise the potential to be part of something special.

“When we saw that the tickets had all sold out so quickly, we were a bit shocked, but excited – to sell 500 tickets in a flash can only be a good sign,” he added. “To sell that many tickets with not many people seeing us regular basis previously or anybody being in the rink is great to see.

“That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to be involved here in the first place – the sheer potential.

“Leeds is a big sporting city and it has everything in place to make it work.”