Leeds Knights: Ethan Hehir hat-trick help put the Knights out in front in NIHL National Autumn Cup
IT hasn’t taken Leeds Knights long to become the team everybody else has to catch.
Played, won five. No other team in the NIHL National Autumn Cup has been able to post the same perfect start as Dave Whistle’s team, their winning sequence extended when a 3-1 road win at Basingstoke Bison on Saturday night was followed up by an eventually emphatic 10-4 victory on home ice against Raiders less than 24 hours later.
A 4-3 defeat at home to Basingstoke last night saw Sheffield Steeldogs’ 100 per cent record ended, leaving their Yorkshire rivals out in front alone by two clear points.
Things couldn’t really have begun any better for owner Steve Nell and Whistle, although the head coach insisted there was no pressure on his team’s shoulders with three games of the group stage remaining.
“I said right at the beginning of this Cup that we want to use it as a snowball effect, that’s what it has been right now
“It’s awesome when you’re winning on a regular basis and players feel good about the way they are playing because you wouldn’t be winning if everybody wasn’t doing their part.
“So it’s a great run we’re on right now, but it’s nothing really, there’s no pressure on us, we just want to continue to win and we’ve won five games now and I think another one will be enough to guarantee us a semi-final slot.”
Regardless of how well his players have started the 2021-22 campaign, Whistle doesn’t want to surrender any momentum when his team continue their Autumn Cup schedule at Milton Keynes Lightning and at home to Peterborough Phantoms next weekend.
“I know we are going to lose some games along the way but you just don’t want to lose that feeling of winning,” he added. “It’s a good feeling to have.”
Forward Ethan Hehir rightly took the man-of-the-match award for the Knights at Elland Road, opening his goalscoring account for the season with a hat-trick, with Brandon Whistle (2), Cole Shudra, Kieran Brown and Adam Barnes all increasing their respective tallies.
On Saturday, the Knights - bolstered by the late addition of 17-year-old forward Mack Stewart from Belfast Giants juniors to cover the absence of centre Matty Davies - found the going a lot tougher after their long trip down to Hampshire but put themselves in the driving seat when two goals in as many minutes from Whistle and Brown gave them a significant advantage just before the halfway mark.
Bison player-coach Ashley Tait halved the deficit for his team at 31.32 but both points came home to West Yorkshire in regulation time after Shudra made it 3-1 at 45.40, the Knights able to close the game out in part thanks to another solid performance in net from Sam Gospel, who enjoyed a 97.14 save percentage.
Saturday’s trip meant the team were not back in Leeds until around 3am on Sunday but, despite a sluggish start, Whistle was impressed with the way his players rallied to record a comprehensive win over their London-based rivals.
“At the beginning of the game it went back and forth for the first period and then we kind of took over which was good to see,” said Whistle.
“It was a long weekend, it really was. Saturday was a long day, we didn’t get back home until the middle of the night and then they had to get up and play again.
“I thought we were a bit tired in the first period but then all of a sudden we came to life and started making some plays and created some more scoring chances, so it all worked out in our favour.”