Leeds Knights: How the bodies are slowly falling back into line for head coach Dave Whistle

DAVE WHISTLE made no secret of how happy he was to get bodies back into his Leeds Knights line-up last weekend.

By Phil Harrison
Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 7:39 am

For the previous 3-4 weeks, the Knights had been almost running on empty, at times lucky to be in a position where they could put 12 skaters out for games, missing so many of their key ingredients as they were.

At one point, Whistle could look up into the seats behind him at Elland Road Ice Arena and see six of his players sat there, all ruled out through one injury or another.

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Leeds Knights No 1 netminder, Sam Gospel Picture: James Hardisty

Defenceman Jordan Griffin was first to go, after sustaining injuries in a car crash on his way to a practice session in Leeds.

Next was two-way forward Cole Shudra, suffering an upper-body injury in the 5-3 league win at Peterborough Phantoms on October 17.

Two weeks later, goalie Sam Gospel (hamstring) and veteran centre Matty Davies (lower-body) were no longer available, with defenceman Ross Kennedy quickly following them on to the injured list.

To make matters worse, Canadian centre Philip Edgar - brought in on loan from North One outfit Whitley Warriors - found himself nursing a knee injury after just two games with the Knights and is unlikely to return any time soon.

Leeds Knights defenceman Ross Kennedy has only played one game since October 30. Picture: James Hardisty

Two weeks ago, the experienced Davies was back, having spent 2-3 weeks recovering from a troublesome injury.

Then, last Friday, first-choice netminder Gospel and 19-year-old Griffin were cleared to return. How timely it was, jumping straight back into a Knights line-up that came away with a deserved 2-1 win at then NIHL National leaders Sheffield Steeldogs.

The following night, the Knights went down 3-2 in overtime to Raiders on home ice.

But Whistle was still content to have posted a three-point weekend, memories of his team’s six-game losing streak in the league confined to the past.

Leeds Knights defenceman Jordan Griffin returned to the starting line-up against Sheffield Steeldogs on Friday - his first game since October 10. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints

Shudra was close to returning too, last weekend, but it’s thought - following consultation with his Sheffield Steelers’ employers - that he will need another week out before jumping back into the fray.

Kennedy hopes to start skating again in practice this week.

Whistle was pleased with the contributions made by his returning players, as well as those made by loanee defenceman Thomas Stubley - who iced against the Steeldogs - and Shudra’s 17-year-old brother, Tate, who played in both games.

“Gossy is our MVP pretty much every single night,” said Whistle of his goaltender. “I know there are skaters out there who are going to score some goals and some of them have great nights as well, but Gossy never takes a night off.

MORE CHOICE: Leeds Knights' head coach, David Whistle. Picture James Hardisty.

“I’ve never seen him have a bad game in my time here.”

“I thought Griffin had a pretty good weekend, too. He did well on both nights, so we’re really glad to have him back.

“And Tate did a pretty good job for us on both nights. He didn’t make many mistakes, he kept it simple. He’s a pretty good skater, a heads-up player. He has got a good hockey IQ - he knows where to go, where not to go, when to hook a guy, when not to hook a guy and those little things pay off. It’s good he has that in his game already.”