Leeds Knights coach Ryan Aldridge on why he believes Final Four Weekend is still within reach

LEEDS KNIGHTS may have left themselves with a mountain to climb in order to reach the NIHL Final Four Play-off Finals Weekend – but coach Ryan Aldridge is backing them to pull it off.

Two defeats to Milton Keynes Lightning on the opening weekend of the post-season was hardly the ideal start for the Knights, particularly when you consider that two of their remaining four games are against 2021-22 regular season champions, Telford Tigers.

And while Bees IHC may be considered the group whipping boys by many, they are unlikely to prove a pushover, particularly for a Knights line-up that has a ‘beat up’ air about it.

There was plenty to admire from Sunday night’s 3-2 defeat on home ice the Lightning but, ultimately, the hosts came up short, leaving themselves with the prospect of needing to win all four of their remaining group games just to stand a chance of making it to Coventry for the grand finale on April 30.

Head coach Aldridge admitted it had been a tough weekend, acknowledged that his team were tired, both mentally and physically and, in some cases, playing through illness and injury.

But it is probably no different to what any other team has been or is even currently going through and he realises his main task this week before the visit of Bees to Elland Road on Saturday is to remind his players of how good they are.

“I’ve said before, whatever happens in these play-offs, this team should be proud of themselves,” said Aldridge. “We’re kind of like the underdog now, so can we go and get four from four? Of course we can. It’s going to be a very, very tough ask but are we capable? Yes, we are.

“We have to take it game by game but we’ve basically got to get four wins now. That starts against Bracknell at home this Saturday.

Leeds Knights' Ben Solder (left) and Sam Zajac battle in front of Sam Gospel's net on Sunday night against Milton Keynes Lightning Picture courtesy of Oliver Portamento

“The guys were happier (on Sunday) than they were on Friday. They know they put in an effort. Friday night, for me, they didn’t put in the effort.

“So, I wouldn’t say they are down, they’ve been told enough, we know they are tired, they know they are tired.

“But you’re looking at guys that, three weeks ago, every time they got across the blue line you thought they were going to score, now, they don’t look the same because they are mentally tired, mentally drained.”

Aldridge acknowledged that his team had come up against a Lightning line-up fully primed to succeed in the play-offs, their regular season campaign having somewhat faded in the closing weeks.

BELIEF: Leeds Knights head coach, Ryan Aldridge Picture Bruce Rollinson

“It was a tough weekend - Friday was tough,” he added. “I don’t want to keep making the boys feel younger than they are but we are a young hockey team, they are an older, more mature hockey team.

“We know they are going to be ready for play-offs and Friday night, I don’t think we were ready for it, to be honest.

“Tonight, I thought we were ready for it, we were really good in a lot of areas but two soft goals in the third period cost us.

“Over the years, that team has always shown up for big games and play-off hockey.”