Leeds Knights coach Dave Whistle to make changes - but key trio set to start
DAVE WHISTLE will be forced into tinkering with his forward lines for tonight’s NIHL Autumn Cup clash at Basingstoke Bison – but he’s pretty sure there is one combination he will be leaving be.
The absence of experienced centre Matty Davies for the weekend means there will be changes, although the line comprising Kieran Brown, Adam Barnes and Lewis Houston is expected to remain unaffected.
Not only do the Knights sit joint-top of the early NIHL Autumn Cup group standings as one of only two sides with a 100 per cent record with Sheffield Steeldogs, they are also dominating the points-scoring charts.
Chief among the leading scorers are Brown and Barnes playing either side of Houston who, while not as prolific, is impressing his head coach just as much with his willingness to adapt to a new role at centre.
During his half season with the Leeds Chiefs’, the 20-year-old Scottish forward formed an early and productive alliance with Barnes, finishing what was a pandemic-shortened first season south of the border with 22 points – including 15 goals – in 28 games.
Given their ability to feed off each other, it was probably no surprise the two were harnessed together once more and, with the addition of Brown, Houston has been quick to adapt to his new role, much to the delight of Whistle.
“I probably won’t change the Barnes, Brown and Houston line this weekend, as I feel they have played well together,” explained Whistle.
“Lewis is just starting to become a good centreman and he is one of those players who takes it upon himself to get good at every spot he is asked to play in.
“You can tell he’s worked on face-offs already in his mind because he did way better last Sunday against Telford than in the previous game in Swindon.
“On that line, those other two guys are really creative players and he just kind of fits right in with them but, at the same time, when you consider he’s never played that position before, he’s been very good at centre for us.
“A centreman has to be a very good skater and he has to be able to go on long shifts, because sometimes you get caught in D on the back end.
“And Lewis’s hockey doesn’t allow him to constantly cheat – he plays both ends of the ice. So I think he’s a player that can change positions no problem, whereas some other guys would have difficulty.
“He also has a don’t give up mentality, he works hard all the time and he’s strong on the puck – it’s just about being a smarter hockey player and he’s learning fast.”
The Knights will come up against a Bison team who have also started their Autumn Cup in positive fashion, enjoying comprehensive wins over Telford Tigers and Peterborough Phantoms before losing out 4-3 in overtime last Sunday at home to Raiders IHC, the team who visit Elland Road tomorrow.
After a five-hour coach journey, is expecting a tough night in Hampshire, but remains confident his players can extend their three-game winning streak.
“It’s all just a process and up to now the players have been doing a very good job and they’re getting better every week,” added Whistle.
“We are playing more as a team than we did that first weekend against Swindon, but that is only natural.
“We’re confident in this group of players and we should be able to win a lot of games if we compete as hard as we have been recently.”