The 2-0 loss at Elland Road on Sunday night saw the Knights finish in fourth place overall, the Steeldogs leapfrogging above them into third. It means Aldridge’s players are in a play-off group with league champions Telford Tigers, fifth-placed Milton Keynes Lightning and Bees IHC, who clinched their place in the post-season with a final-day 8-2 win over Basingstoke Bison.
Knights head coach Aldridge is now desperately hoping he can get key personnel back for this Friday’s play-off opener at Milton Keynes Lightning, the two teams facing-off against each other again two days later in Leeds (5.15pm).
Captain Matty Davies has been a big miss for the Knights in recent weeks, having not iced since the 4-3 at Milton Keynes on March 12 due to an upper-body injury. Fellow forwards Ethan Hehir and Joe Coulter were ruled out at the weekend with illness, as was defenceman Ross Kennedy.
Aldridge knows he won’t have 17-year-old D-man Archie Hazeldine back until the second round of games as he is away on international duty with Great Britain Under-18s at the Division 2A World Championships in Estonia.
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Defenceman Lewis Baldwin has been pressed into service up front ever since two-way forward Harry Gulliver earned himself a top-nine forward slot with parent club Manchester Storm. He hasn’t played for Leeds since late February and is unlikely to be made available again as long as Ryan Finnerty’s team have a chance of making the Elite League play-offs.
After the defeat to Steeldogs, Aldridge was full of praise for his players’ efforts in recent weeks.
“Obviously, we wanted to win the last home match of the season, just to get some momentum going into the play-offs,” said Aldridge. “But the reality is that we’re very short-benched right now and to keep the score at two against Sheffield, I thought the boys did great.
“They were phenomenal all weekend and I thought effort-wise it was great.
“We’ve just got to get bodies back, that’s the reality. I think it was 34 points or so ago, we sat down as a team and set out what points total we were going to try and achieve and I think the boys had got 28 in their minds and, after tonight (against Steeldogs), we’ve got 24.
“And we’ve been short for a lot of that time, so they have been unbelievable here. Whatever happens in the play-offs, everybody should be bloody proud of that hockey team.”