Leeds Knights: Dave Whistle keen for Knights to maintain that winning feeling

DAVE WHISTLE expects to see further improvements from his Leeds Knights team once they get their 2021-22 season underway for real this evening.

Saturday, 18th September 2021, 9:04 am
Updated Saturday, 18th September 2021, 10:30 am
KEEP IT GOING: Leeds Knights got their first-ever win under their belts when beating Sheffield Steeldogs 3-2 at Elland Road Ice Arena last Friday. Picture: Andy Bourke.

The Knights have enjoyed a productive pre-season campaign, winning two out of their four games, while losing the other two by just the odd goal against a Swindon Wildcats team tipped to be among the front-runners for NIHL National honours.

Tonight sees them back at Elland Road Arena to play host to Bees IHC in the NIHL Autumn Cup, a competition which sees each of the nine teams in the UK second tier face-off against each other over the next month or so, ahead of when the regular league season kicks in on October 16.

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Winning the competition may not be the top priority for most teams during the coming campaign, but Whistle is determined for his players to maintain the winning momentum from last weekend when they enjoyed pre-season wins over Sheffield Steeldogs and Telford Tigers.

“In a way, this cup is like a second pre-season ahead of the main league season,” said Whistle. “But you really want to get on a roll as soon as you can in a season.

“When I was at Belfast in the Superleague for those three years, we got better during the Challenge Cup and this is, effectively, our Challenge Cup.

“So we want to start off with a win and just keep rolling with it and, sometimes, when you’re winning a lot you don’t always deserve to win the game but you still do because the breaks go your way because you’ve earned them.

Dave Whistle chats to his defensive group ahead of their first pre-season friendly at Swindon Wildcats.

“That’s what I found what happened in Belfast.

“And then you get on a good roll and you think you can go out there and win every single game and that’s the feeling you want to have before stepping out on the ice.

“I want my players to be thinking: ‘Hey, we’re going to win this game - all we’ve got to do is play how we know we can play and we’ll win.’

“And you want them to have that feeling before every single game - believing that the other team is going to have to play pretty special to beat them.”

Ben Solder, far right, celebrates his equalising goal against Sheffield with team-mate Jordan Fisher. Picture: Andy Bourke.

Whistle says he got exactly what he was looking for from the four pre-season games, with regard to learning about his players’ strengths and weaknesses.

Leeds Knights' Lewis Houston, left, battles with Sheffield Steeldogs' Ben Morgan. Picture: Andy Bourke.

He is yet to make a decision who will wear the ‘C’ and the A’s going forward, with tonight’s games against the Bees seen as a final audition for the roles before he announces them next week.

“I have a good idea who I really like in those roles but we’re going to see how things go on Saturday before we make a final decision on who gets the letters,” explained the Canadian.

“Over the next 2-3 weeks, we’re going to see a big improvement on the little areas of our game. I felt we’ve got a little bit better with each game and I’m confident those improvements will continue.

“If we outwork Bees we should have a good chance of winning.

“So far, our work rate has been pretty good - there are times in my mind where it looks like they’ve given up on the back check, but it’s early in the year so it’s very difficult to put yourself in their skates.

“They haven’t really been playing serious hockey for most of the last 16 months, so it is hard coming back. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what kind of shape you are in - skating shape is totally different than just being in great physical shape.”

While Leeds wait to play host buoyed by last weekend’s wins, Doug Sheppard’s Bees team head to West Yorkshire in confident mood themselves having gone through their own pre-season campaign unbeaten.

After a 6-6 draw with Raiders IHC, the Bees then got the better of their London-based rivals 5-3 on the road while, last weekend, they did the double over Swindon, following up an impressive 9-5 win in Wiltshire with a 4-2 win on ‘home’ ice in Slough.

To buy tickets to Saturday’s NIHL Autumn Cup clash against Bees IHC go HERE