Leeds Knights: Familiar pattern emerges as Knights set early regular season pace in NIHL National

JUST over a quarter of the way through the 2023-24 NIHL National season and you could forgive Leeds Knights’ fans for feeling slightly giddy right now.
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Another four-point weekend – stretching the team’s winning streak to eight games – has left Ryan Aldridge’s team four points clear at the top of the regular season standings after 15 games.

Of course, their situation was helped greatly on Sunday night by a surprise 4-3 defeat for second-placed Milton Keynes Lightning at Solway Sharks.

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That allowed Hull Seahawks to move to within two points of Tim Wallace’s team after they followed up Saturday’s hard-fought 3-2 road win at Sheffield Steeldogs with a 10-6 win over Bristol Pitbulls on home ice. On both nights against Raiders IHC, the Knights came out of the blocks flying, winning 4-3 in Romford before hammering the same team 7-2 on home ice the following night.

BIG CONTRIBUTOR: Mac Howlett has enjoyed a fien start to the season, posting eight goals and 14 assists in 15 games. Picture: Aaron Badkin/Leeds KnightsBIG CONTRIBUTOR: Mac Howlett has enjoyed a fien start to the season, posting eight goals and 14 assists in 15 games. Picture: Aaron Badkin/Leeds Knights
BIG CONTRIBUTOR: Mac Howlett has enjoyed a fien start to the season, posting eight goals and 14 assists in 15 games. Picture: Aaron Badkin/Leeds Knights

But it is quality in all areas of the ice that has satisfied head coach Aldridge, even though he is still searching for that ‘60-minute performance’.

“I think our ‘D’ is much improved from last year,” said Aldridge when asked about his thoughts on the season so far. “Our goalie, well, everybody believes he is the best in the league and he is, 100 per cent.

“And to have a better ‘D’ in front of him helps him out - and that’s why the goals against is so good at the minute.

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“And our offence is doing enough to win hockey games, so we’;re sitting quite pretty right now.”

PLEASED: Leeds Knights' head coach, Ryan Aldridge. Picture: Jacob Lowe/Leeds KnightsPLEASED: Leeds Knights' head coach, Ryan Aldridge. Picture: Jacob Lowe/Leeds Knights
PLEASED: Leeds Knights' head coach, Ryan Aldridge. Picture: Jacob Lowe/Leeds Knights

Against a Raiders team languishing around the wrong end of the table, Leeds effectively killed the game off inside the first 20 minutes at Elland Road Ice Arena.

Mac Howlett was first to get on the board in the fifth minute, with Jordan Buesa marking his home debut in style when he doubled the advantage just over seven minutes later.

Kieran Brown led by example once again when making it 3–0 at 14.10 before import forward Josh Adkins piled on the agony for the visitors in the 18th minute.

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Sean Easton’s side earned themselves brief respite when Callum Wells opened their account just before the halfway mark, only for the Knights to restore their four-goal lead through Adkins.

A second for Brown and a James Archer strike then put the game beyond reach with over 10 minutes remaining.

Having lost Cole Shudra so late in the summer, Aldridge’s chief concern was filling the obvious hole left by one of the most prolific points-scorers from the 2022-23 season.

Judging by the start to the season his team has enjoyed, you could argue those concerns are unfounded.

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What has made Aldridge more comfortable with Shudra’s exit is the arrival of Buesa, who has quickly made a name for himself in Knights’ colours. So far, Buesa has posted three goals and four assists in five appearances, his home debut in particular catching Aldridge’s eye.

“I said after the first period, the league can’t handle him when he plays like that,” added Aldridge. “He was fast, direct, hard to play against.

“Since he’s come in, he’s been a bit of the puzzle that we’ve been missing.”