Leeds Knights 5 Telford Tigers 2: Dave Whistle praises players’ character after maintaining perfect NIHL Autumn Cup start
DAVE WHISTLE praised his Leeds Knights team for digging deep to maintain their 100 per cent record in the NIHL Autumn Cup with a deserved win over Telford Tigers.
Roared on by the team’s first 1,000-plus crowd of the season the Knights carried on from where they left off in Friday night’s 7-3 win at Swindon Wildcats with a 5-2 victory over the 2019-20 NIHL National league and cup champions.
In all, Whistle’s team have plundered 19 goals in their three games so far, sitting joint-top of the Cup group standings with Sheffield Steeldogs, who maintained their own perfect start to the competition by following up a 7-2 win at home over Swindon with an impressive 5-2 win at Bees IHC last night.
It’s clearly early days, but there is a feeling around Elland Road Ice Arena that some kind of momentum – however faint – is building around the Knights, with their head coach not surprisingly heading home last night in buoyant mood, his team having won their last five games in all.
“We played well tonight,” said Whistle.
“That was a hard game, Telford are a very good team. They play their positions very well and they take their chances and their opportunities when they get them, but they all come back as a unit and so it is sometimes hard to break them down.
“But we’ve got some young, fast skaters and that was the reason why we got so many scoring chances out of the game.
“I was really pleased for the guys again tonight, because we had to dig deep for this result.”
Whistle was also pleased with his players’ ability to cut down on the number of Grade-A scoring chances for their opponents, something he felt improved across both games at the weekend.
“Against Swindon we gave up some shots, but kind of kept them on the outside,” added Whistle. “Then tonight we didn’t give them a lot of good, clear scoring chances – and the ones that we did Sammy (goaltender Sam Gospel) saved them.”
Telford arrived in Leeds in buoyant mood, having seen off Milton Keynes Lightning 5-2 on home ice the previous evening.
Whether it was ‘bus legs’ that got the better of them or not, though, they were quickly behind after Knights’ centre Matty Davies gave the hosts the lead with just 3.27 on the clock.
That stung the Tigers into a response and they were soon level when Joe Aston found a way past Gospel at 7.11.
After a steady opening to the second period, Leeds put themselves under pressure when Ross Kennedy was called for tripping but, in reality, the hosts looked comfortable for the subsequent two minutes with a man less, Gospel not really being tested until both teams were back to even strength and Austin Mitchell-King fired into his midriff.
But whereas Telford struggled on the man advantage, Leeds made theirs count shortly after, Kieran Brown and Sam Zajac teeing up Brandon Whistle to fire through traffic and past Jordan Lawday to make it 2-1 at 27.59.
At the other end, Telford had a great chance to level within a couple of minutes but Gospel denied Jason Silverthorn from close-range.
Things got briefly heated when Jordan Fisher and Andrew McKinney dropped the gloves in mid-ice – both getting in blows to the head before tumbling over, but the Knights remained ahead until the second break.
Early in the third, Lawday denied Cole Shudra, while Lewis Baldwin just ran out of space after skating the entire length of the ice unchecked.
But when Brown sprinted clear down the left off a cross-ice feed from Lewis Houston, he advanced on Lawday and, from a tight angle, fired a rasper into the roof of the net at 45.43 to the delight of the crowd.
Brown almost made it 4-1 shortly after when cutting in from the right corner but Telford were far from out of it and rallied, forcing Gospel into a sharp pad save from the blue line, while Shudra got down to block the rebound.
Gospel then got across to deny Mitchell-King at the back door as the Tigers poured forward, but was helpless when Silverthorn was left all alone to fire past him at 52.15 to make it a one-goal game again.
The tension grew among the home fans, but not for long as Brown turned provider when, after a scramble in front of net, the puck eventually broke kindly for Houston to lift it over Lawday to make it 4-2 at 54.05.
As the clock ran down, Telford pulled Lawday allowing Whistle to fire into the empty net and ensure the Knights’ unbeaten record remained intact.