Leeds Knights: How Dave Whistle plans to build team both on and off the ice

THIS TIME next week, Leeds Knights head coach Dave Whistle should be walking through the doors at Elland Road ice rink for the first-ever time.

Monday, 19th July 2021, 6:45 am
Updated Monday, 19th July 2021, 10:52 pm
Leeds Knights' head coach, Dave Whistle, pictured during his second stint at Cardiff Devils. Picture courtesy of Richard Murray.

It will mark the beginning of a project for which the long-term aim is to firmly establish Leeds on the British ice hockey map.

It’s a mission both Whistle and team owner Steve Nell intend to accomplish but not one they are looking to cut corners on.

Already the pair have made great strides and their activities are only going to increase over the coming weeks now that Whistle - whose dual role also sees him operating as the team’s General Manager - is in position.

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Leeds Chiefs quickly attracted crowds of over 700 during their short existence, with Knights' head coach Dave Whistle looking to quickly build strong relationships with the supporters' club, which has carried over to the Steve Nell-owned franchise. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

Understandably, Nell had to put some pieces in place in terms of the Knights’ roster for the 2021-22 season, given it was a few weeks before he settled on Whistle as his man behind the bench.

All have been met with approval by Whistle, who has been adding further new faces to the roster, declaring at the weekend that he only has a couple of spots left to fill.

They may be filled with a couple of bodies from the 2019-20 Hull Pirates who now find themselves looking for a new team after owner Shane Smith’s decision last week to withdraw his club from the forthcoming campaign due to delays in the refurbishment of the city’s ice rink.

Given Whistle’s vast experience on both sides of the Atlantic, whether he adds a couple of top-end British players from the Pirates or not, he will not be short of options.

HE'S GOT PREVIOUS: Dave Whistle helped build Belfast Giants up from scratch, coaching them to the Elite League title within two years. Picture: Michael Cooper/Getty Images

Off the ice, wearing his GM hat, Whistle will help Nell build the brand, the product, bringing in sponsors and, crucially, increasing the fanbase as quickly as possible.

In what turned out to be their sole campaign under the Leeds Chiefs name, the club were able to quickly build up a solid following. Even though they were only able to play out of Elland Road for a few weeks before the pandemic struck, crowds had already grown to around the 700-mark, showing the obvious potential.

To this end, one of Whistle’s first tasks once he arrives in Leeds will be to liaise closely with the Knights’ supporters club, a group he sees as vital to the success of any team.

“I’m excited and looking forward to meeting up with everybody,” said Whistle, who is expected to land in the UK today. “I particularly want to get to meet with the supporters club. They are an important part of a team.

NEW HOME: Leeds Knights' head coach Dave Whistle will see Planet Ice's Elland Road Ice Rink for the first time next week. Picture: Steve Riding.

“They do a lot of stuff for teams that people don’t realise they do. Pretty much all the other teams I’ve been involved with, I’ve always been pretty heavily involved with the supporters’ clubs - they are a vital ingredient.”

One other issue Whistle wants to address is the home locker room. It may sound trivial, but not for the 55-year-old Canadian

“It’s an important area for any team,” added Whistle. “The players will be looking forward to having the locker room done out properly for them.

“Players have to want to like coming into the rink, they have to like being in their dressing room. At the end of the day, that is their office, they need a few home comforts and it needs to be right for them.”