Leeds Chiefs v Sheffield Steeldogs - Sam Zajac looking for Chiefs to become dominant force

SAM ZAJAC is looking for his Leeds Chiefs team to show they can become a more dominant force as they look to pull themselves off the bottom of the NIHL National table.

By Phil Harrison
Saturday, 16th November 2019, 9:09 am
Updated Saturday, 16th November 2019, 9:27 am
Leeds forward Radek Meidl battles with Sheffield's Alex Graham 
at Blackburn Ice Arena two weeks ago. 

Picture courtesy of Cerys Molloy
Leeds forward Radek Meidl battles with Sheffield's Alex Graham at Blackburn Ice Arena two weeks ago. Picture courtesy of Cerys Molloy

Going into their weekend double-header with Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Steeldogs, the Chiefs find themselves three points adrift of their rivals on the back of a four-game losing streak.

One thing Zajac’s team have struggled to do enough of this season is impose themselves on opponents, outshot – at times heavily – in 10 of their 14 regular season games so far.

After being left bitterly disappointed with his team in defeats to the Steeldogs and then Hull Pirates the following weekend, Zajac was buoyed by the improvement seen in his team’s loss to leaders Swindon Wildcats last Sunday.

Despite the 4-1 scoreline in what was classed as their second ‘home’ game of the season at Widnes, Zajac was pleased with the way his players’ responded to the 6-2 defeat at Hull the previous evening.

The Chiefs were a good match for a Wildcats team on their way to securing a 10th straight victory which has them three points clear of nearest rivals Telford Tigers going into this weekend.

It was enough to reassure player-coach Zajac that his roster – however short compared to most of their rivals – has what it takes to compete in the second tier. “It’s a case of trusting the process,” said Zajac. “We just need to make sure we’re playing the right way.

“We know we can compete, but against Swindon on Sunday we showed that we can dominate with the puck a lot more than we have done recently, certainly in the games against Sheffield and Hull.

READY FOR ACTION: Sam Zajac lines up against Sheffield Steeldogs on the opening day of the NIOHL National season. Picture: Chris Stratford

“I think we can maybe be a bit passive at times and we look to soak up pressure before we counter-attack.

“But with the players we’ve got, we can dominate games more than we actually have been. This weekend we know we’ve got to play that way more and be a threat over the full 60 minutes, rather than just in fits and starts.

“We’ve gone over a few things in practice this week and know what we need to do to be more successful.”

Going into a weekend which sees the Steeldogs pay a second visit to Blackburn tonight (face-of 7.30pm) ahead of a rematch 24 hours later at Ice Sheffield (4.30pm), Zajac is confident his team can emerge from the weekend with something to show from their efforts.

Ben Morgan’s team lead the eight-game head-to-head series 2-1, Leeds’ win in South Yorkshire back on October 25 being one of just three so far this season.

But while fully aware of the offensive threat carried by the likes of Sheffield’s Nathan Salem and Kieran Brown, Zajac is optimistic his team possesses enough talent of its own to counter that.

“I like the way we match up against the Steeldogs,” said Zajac. “That last game aside in Blackburn, we’ve had two very good performances against them, and that is not taking anything away from them (in Blackburn) because they are a very good team.

“They’ve got a very strong roster, with some top talent but I do think there are areas in their game where we can exploit them.

“Essentially, it comes down to who wants it more. You can have all the talented players you want, but it comes down to that will to win.

“We’re obviously not where we want to be in the league, we want to be pushing on as high as possible. And, for us, that has to start this weekend and all our guys are highly-motivated to make that happen.”