Leeds Knights captain Sam Zajac happy to put in the extra shifts to get through tough patch

IT remains to be seen how many defencemen Dave Whistle will have at his disposal for Leeds Knights’ double-header weekend against Telford Tigers – but captain Sam Zajac says a shortage of bodies will not be used as an excuse for poor results.

Thursday, 4th November 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Friday, 5th November 2021, 1:59 pm

The Knights go into tomorrow’s clash at Elland Road against Tom Watkins’ team looking to snap a three-game losing streak.

For what was effectively five periods last weekend, head coach Whistle was left with only four healthy defencemen – Zajac, Bobby Streetly, Lewis Baldwin and 17-year-old Archie Hazeldine.

Ross Kennedy started Saturday’s game at home to Raiders IHC but played no part after the first period following a blow to the head which also ruled him out of Sunday’s trip to Slough to face Bees IHC.

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With Jordan Griffin likely to remain sidelined until some time in December as the result of injuries sustained in a car accident and Ben Solder potentially remaining with Elite League parent club Manchester Storm, the remaining quartet could well again find themselves logging plenty of minutes.

The Knights are currently dealing with injury issues elsewhere on the ice, too, with forward Cole Shudra out until late December, while veteran Matty Davies is sidelined for at least another week.

Netminder Sam Gospel is also set to miss the games against Telford – and maybe more – after suffering a hamstring injury in the defeat to Raiders.

BRING IT ON: Leeds Knight captain Sam Zajac says the extra on-ice workload is all pat of the game. Picture: James Hardisty

But while such a situation is far from ideal, experienced defenceman Zajac says playing every other shift will be nothing unusual for those left manning the Knights’ blue line against Telford.

“It is tough going but we don’t want to use that as an excuse,” insisted Zajac.

“The four guys that played last weekend will have been in that position countless times before. It is something that often happens over the course of the season.

INJURY CONCERN: Leeds Knights' defenceman Ross Kennedy. Picture: James Hardisty

“In one way, though, you’re so involved in the game and you’re on the ice every other shift, that as long as you manage those minutes and you’re not rushing the puck every time and you just manage your energy levels, you learn to manage the situation.

“You see a lot of teams go through it during the course of a season.

“Any less than four D and you’re probably going to start to struggle, but it’s do-able with four.

“Having guys out – big guys for us – Matty and Cole, Griff, Gossy and then we lost Ross on Saturday, it’s tough but that’s the time where you need other guys to step up and contribute.

INJURY BLOW: Netminder Sam Gospel is likely to be missing for Leeds Knights this weekend. Picture: James Hardisty

“We saw it at times over the weekend but we didn’t manage to put in a full 60-minute effort in either game.”

Zajac said a shortage of bodies was an adversity that all NIHL National teams will face at some point this season. And while Whistle has been able to bring in replacements among his forwards – in the shape of teenagers Mack Stewart and Carter Hamill and, last Saturday, Harry Gulliver on a two-way from Manchester – finding suitable solutions on the back-end was not as simple.

“It’s on the whole team when you are short,” added Zajac. “If you’re short on ‘D’ maybe the forwards have got to chip in a little bit more defensively and if we’re short in the forwards, we’ve maybe got to join the rush a bit more.

“It’s just a case of getting through his tough period, every team is going to have one, we know that with injuries.

“Every team is going to be hit by it, especially with the Covid situation still hovering around, where teams are short and it’s just about how you pull together and how you react in such situations.”

JUGGLING ACT: Dave Whistle faces some tough decisions this weekend in terms of his Leeds Knights line-up. Picture James Hardisty