Leeds Knights frustrated by Raiders IHC once again but now the final countdown begins

PLAYED THREE, lost three. You have to admit, Raiders IHC are proving something of a bogey side for Leeds Knights in NIHL National this season.

By Phil Harrison
Sunday, 12th December 2021, 10:36 pm
Cole Shudra marked his return to action for  Leeds Knights 
with three goals and two assists at the weekend. Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft/Swindon Wildcats
Cole Shudra marked his return to action for Leeds Knights with three goals and two assists at the weekend. Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft/Swindon Wildcats

Having walloped Sean Easton’s team 10-4 when the two sides met in the Autumn Cup group phase back in September, Leeds have struggled every time since.

Two weeks ago, their efforts to tie the game 2-2 on home ice in the dying moments proved in vain when, just 13 seconds into overtime, Lukas Sladkovsky danced clean through to nick the extra point for the visitors.

That followed a deserved 5-3 win for the Romford-based team at Elland Road in late October.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Former Bradford Bulldogs junior Jacob Lutwyche made his Leeds Knights debut in the 6-4 loss at Raiders on Sunday. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss/EIHL.

Last night, on the Knights’ first visit of the regular season to London, it was that man Sladkovsky who was again the difference maker, completing his hat-trick with an empty-net strike to secure a 6-4 win.

The result marred what had started out as a promising weekend for Leeds when they got the better of visitors Telford Tigers 6-3.

Head coach Dave Whistle saw plenty to admire in the win over Telford but felt his players gave themselves too much to do on their travel, particularly after finding themselves 2-0 inside three minutes.

“They jumped out to a quick lead, scored on us twice early on and we just couldn’t get it back,” said Whistle. “We had a couple of chances to put it in the net but it just didn’t go for us.

FINAL COUNTDOWN: Leeds Knights' head coach, Dave Whistle Picture: James Hardisty

“As a team against Telford, I felt we played a lot better. We were picking up our guys better and staying with them and identifying stuff defensively more, which is something we’ve struggled with pretty much from the start of the season.

“It was a good performance against a good team.”

As preparation for Friday’s first leg of the Autumn Cup Final at Swindon Wildcats, Whistle will, on the whole, be satisfied, although he will be hoping for good news on centre Joe Coulter and defenceman Lewis Baldwin, who sat out the trip down south due to injury.

Sunday brought another Knights’ debut when Manchester Storm forward Jacob Lutwyche skated after a two-way deal was agreed between the two clubs, similar to the one covering fellow forward Harry Gulliver.

PRODUCING: Leeds Knights' Kieran Brown scored two goals and two assists across two nights. Picture: James Hardisty

Gulliver played against Telford before swapping places with Lutwyche as he returned to the Storm line-up for last night’s 5-1 win at Fife Flyers.

Whistle was impressed with Lutwyche’s output in a losing cause and is keen to make use of him again.

“He did good, he’s a good two-way player,” said Whistle. “He thinks the game very well, knows where to go, chips it in if he doesn’t have a play and back-checks hard. We’ll certainly look to use him again if and when possible.”

Leeds were up against it in London when Rio Grinell-Parke struck with just 69 seconds on the board, the hosts’ lead doubling when Sladkovsky bagged his first of the night just 94 seconds later.

Cole Shudra halved the deficit at 16.45 but Raiders replied within two minutes through a second for Grinell-Parke to take a 3-1 lead into the break.

That lead became 4-1 before the halfway mark after a Jake Sylvester strike but the Knights dragged themselves back into the game through third-period markers from Brandon Whistle and Matty Davies. But only 52 seconds after Davies’s power play effort, that man Sladkovsky hit back with a killer blow to make it 5-3 at 50.50.

Kieran Brown made it a one-goal game again with a 57th-minute power play goal but, with Knights’ netminder Sam Gospel pulled, Sladkovsky made sure of the points with just 24 seconds remaining.

Against Telford, a dominant second period for the Knights proved the difference.

Andrew McKinney gave the Tigers the lead at 10.01 but Brown levelled early in the second before Shudra marked his return after eight weeks out by making it 2-1 at 26.17.

Jordan Fisher doubled the lead at 36.39 but the Knights had to overcome a third period fightback from Tom Watkins’s side. Goals within three minutes from Austin Mitchell-King and Scott McKenzie briefly stunned the hosts, although they quickly got ahead once again through Bobby Streetly’s strike at 53.51.

A second for Shudra - this time short-handed - followed two minutes later before Ben Solder wrapped up the points with an empty-net strike.