Leeds Knights coach Dave Whistle happy with first win but keen to nullify opposition threat

DAVE WHISTLE admitted to having a “good feeling” over Leeds Knights chalking up their first-ever win - but wants his team to get smarter on the defensive side of their game.

Saturday, 11th September 2021, 9:40 am
Updated Saturday, 11th September 2021, 9:41 am

The Knights edged out Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Steeldogs 3-2 in an entertaining pre-season encounter at Elland Road, securing the team’s first-ever victory following two one-goal defeats to Swindon Wildcats last weekend.

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Whistle’s players will take Saturday off before playing their final pre-season game at 2019-20 NIHL National league and cup champions Telford Tigers on Sunday evening, with their head coach hoping his message of ‘team defence’ is acted upon more regularly in Shropshire.

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Leeds Knights's Kieran Brown (far side) gets a shot in on Sheffield Steeldogs' netminder Miles Finney. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.

“It is a good feeling to get that first win and I felt we played pretty good tonight all around,” said Whistle. “We had pretty good scoring chances against them but, again, when we don’t have the puck we gave the other team too many opportunities to score.

“They outshot us tonight and we don’t want that, so we’re going to have to buckle down here this week and really, really concentrate on when we don’t have the puck and our defensive side of the game.

“It was something I spoke to the players about before the game - sometimes it showed, sometimes it didn’t. They still had some 2-on-1s against us and we had ‘D’ pinching at the wrong time - so I’ll be talking to the players again and they know, I’ve already talked to them about being on the defensive side, don’t cheat right now because we’re just giving up too many opportunities for the opposition.”

No more clearly will Whistle’s frustration have been borne out than when he saw his team go behind in the 26th minute when, with the Knights on the powerplay, the Steeldogs were gifted a 2-on-0 breakaway which ended with a shorthanded Jason Hewitt strike.

Dave Whistle has concerns over the defensive side of his team's game. Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft/Swindon Wildcats.

“That is it, right there in a nutshell,” he added. “Giving up a 2-on-0 when we’re on the power play, it just shouldn’t happen, it shouldn’t happen at this level. I think it’s a little bit of selfishness, so we’re going to have to curb that.”

Whistle was full of praise for Knights’ netminder Sam Gospel, who stood tall once again, turning away 48 of the 50 shots on his goal, including one stunning stop to deny Nathan Salem scoring from a rebound in the third period.

“Sammy’s really been our man of the match every night so far that I’ve been here,” added Whistle. “He just comes and does his job and plays excellent every night, every practice - it’s just awesome to have him here.”

Another plus point for Whistle was the performance of defenceman Ben Solder, asked to play the unfamiliar role of centreing the third line in the absence of Joe Coulter, quickly hitting it off with Ethan Hehir and Jordan Fisher, a combination which resulted in the D-man breaking down the left and scoring the Knights’ 38th-minute equaliser.

IMPRESSIVE: leeds Knights coach Dave Whistle was delighted with the perofmrnaces of netminder Sam Gospel and D-man Ben Solder, scorer of the Knights' first goal and playing as third line centre in the absence of Joe Coulter. Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft/Swindon Wildcats.

“Ben’s taken to that role well,” said Whistle. “I don’t think it’s something he’s done a lot of before. I asked the defenceman who wants to play up front and he said he would do it and I thought he did a great job up there.

“He’s a smart player, so I have a feeling that he can kind of play in any position after watching him now for a few games. He does a good job with the puck, away from the puck - he’s a little bit more defensive so that’s why I put him centre.

“And that line did well again tonight. Every shift they had the puck down in their end, or a lot of the time they had the puck in their possession so I can’t ask for any more. And they deserved their luck with that goal - when they go and do all the corner work and take a hit to make a play, or give a hit to make a play, it was a great goal for them to get.”