Leeds Knights coach Ryan Aldridge hails 'special group' after stunning NIHL National title triumph
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The Knights picked up their first-ever piece of silverware in just their second season following their 4-2 win at Telford Tigers.
Combined with a 5-3 defeat for nearest challengers Milton Keynes Lightning, it meant the Knights could not be caught, clinching the prized crown with four games to spare.
Their ability to seal their title triumph was all the more impressive given it came just under 48 hours after they had been beaten 6-0 in the first leg of the National Cup final at Peterborough Phantoms.
The second leg of that encounter takes place this Friday at Elland Road Ice Arena and, although overturning such a huge deficit appears on the face of it unlikely, you wouldn’t necessarily bet against Aldridge and his players pulling it off.
Aldridge said his team had battled through a number of tough situations throughout the season - both on and off the ice and including a number of difficult personal and family issues for some - but he was proud of the resilience and determination they had shown throughout a gruelling campaign.
“When you win the league with only four regulation losses, you know you’ve got a pretty special team on your hands,” said Aldridge.
“I don’t think we’ve really had time to sit down and think about whether this would happen because last year, Telford won it with 35 wins and there are three teams over that this time around - us Milton Keynes and Peterborough - so it has been a constant grind.
“So I think we knew we had something special, a special group, it was just about whether such a young group could handle it all and they have clearly proved that they can.
“I was talking to Tommy Watkins (Telford head) after the game on Sunday and he said that we’d won this after battling through some tough situations.
“We always had reasons to win it with some of the things that have happened this year. We’ve obviously got a very special team on our hands.
“It’s about coming through those tough times and seeing if we can bounce back and we did that every time. It is an emotional time, I think with winning it on the day we won it, too, it has to be emotional.”
On his team’s ability to bounce back from their mauling in Peterborough on Friday night, Aldridge, beating Swindon Wildcats 5-2 at home the following night before overcoming Telford 24 hours later, Aldridge added: “We’ve not lost more than two games in a row all season.
“It was massive for us to bounce back the way we did. We were 2-0 down but I always felt we were the better team - the boys were unbelievable against Swindon and then carried it over to Telford.
“It’s a great feeling and I’m proud of each and every single one of them.”