Leeds Knights duo set the tone for others to follow as NIHL National title bid intensifies

SIX weekends, 13 games, at least 780 minutes of hockey.
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​That is what stands between Leeds Knights and what would constitute a remarkable achievement of lifting the NIHL National regular season championship in what is only their second-ever campaign.

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Leeds Knights: Team ethic and hunger to improve fuelling drive for NIHL National...

Of course, a lot of hockey can be squeezed into those 780 or so minutes and there is the small matter of title rivals Milton Keynes Lightning having a big say in where the title ends up.

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Peterborough Phantoms, cast slightly adrift in third after last week’s home defeat to Milton Keynes, might also still have a say, even if their influence now only comes in the respective encounters they have against the top two.

Whatever transpires over the next few weeks, though, Knights’ head coach believes in his team and believes in experienced pair Sam Zajac and Matty Haywood he might have the secret ingredient that can secure silverware - maybe even two lots.

“Sammy Zajac only been a minus in two games all year,” said Aldridge. “It’s not necessarily about his ability - of which he has loads anyway - it’s as much about his personality.

“It’s the way he battles, it’s the way he cares, he’s just a great leader on the ice for us.

BACKING: Leeds Knights' head coach Ryan Aldridge. Picture: Bruce RollinsonBACKING: Leeds Knights' head coach Ryan Aldridge. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
BACKING: Leeds Knights' head coach Ryan Aldridge. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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“And Matty Haywood is exactly the same, that’s probably why they get on so well and are such good friends. I really can’t say enough positives about either of them.”

Haywood was missing last weekend through food poisoning and even though Aldridge got the response he wanted from his players in the veteran centre’s absence, he is delighted to have him back on the ice in this weekend’s double-header against play-off chasing Bristol Pitbulls, the Knights playing host on Sunday (5.15pm).

“Despite us getting the points and playing well without him, we still missed him,” added Aldridge. “It will be great to have him back out there, he is a player who brings so much to the team.”

On the back-to-back games against the Pitbulls, who are four points off Telford Tigers, the team who currently occupy the eighth and final play-off spot, Aldridge added: “Last time we were down there they came hard at us and made life very difficult.

“They have got a young, skilled team so they should be in every game and I expect it to be the same this time when we head down there.”