Leeds Knights lift NIHL National league trophy on home ice with coach Ryan Aldridge declaring: 'this is just the start'
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A week after confirming their status as the 2022-23 NIHL National league champions, Leeds Knights finally got their hands on the prized trophy they had been pushed so hard for all season.
It came, as has been the case so often this season, on the back of another four-point weekend, this time following up a 4-2 win at Basingstoke Bison with a more convincing 6-2 win on their treasured home ice at Elland Road Ice Arena.
The game? Well, frankly, who cares? Sunday night at ‘The Castle’ as it has affectionately been dubbed by the Knights’ faithful, was all about one thing.
In any other season, Milton Keynes Lightning or Peterborough Phantoms - the two teams who kept pace with the Knights for the vast majority of the season - would have won the title with their respective points hauls.
But that is just further evidence of just what a remarkable campaign has been carried out by Ryan Aldridge’s team.
It was Peterborough who had been celebrating on the ice on Friday night after fending off a stirring National Cup final second leg comeback by the Knights to hold on for a dramatic 8-6 aggregate win.
It was the second time in as many seasons that the Knights had been forced to watch another team do laps of their ice with a trophy in their hands, incidentally having lost by the same scoreline.
As has been well-documented since the first puck drop in pre-season back in early September, this was meant to be a ‘building’ season according to head coach Aldridge.
Pretty soon, however, it became clear something special was on the cards.
He admits he has needed to be hard on his players from time to time, hence the determination not to precede Sunday’s celebrations with anything less than a 45th win of a memorable campaign.
“We almost want to focus on our record now and maintain the momentum going into the play-offs - we didn’t want to celebrate on the ice on the back of a loss,” said Aldridge, among his players who were alongside their families on the ice, making the moment even more special.
“They are enjoying what they have deserved all year. It’s been hard work to get to this moment. A lot of abuse, a lot of hard lessons, a lot of talking in the locker room about maturity and immaturity.
“I’ve been hard on them, very hard on them at times but they have reacted every time and they are a phenomenal group of young men
“Hopefully we can keep most of them around and we can go on to bigger and better things.
“As a club, as a team, we want this to be the start of something special. We want to be a team that is up there challenging for honours regularly, we want to be fighting for championships for the next 5-10 years - this is just the start of it.”
For the record, two goals from Finn Bradon - one of the many success stories of the season - helped the Knights edge out Bison in Hampshire on Saturday, his strikes complemented by goals from Zach Brooks and captain Kieran Brown.
Back in Leeds, Jake Witkowski got the Knights in front, the hosts going in at the first break 2-1 ahead after Matt Haywood had cancelled out Zack Milton’s equaliser.
But three unanswered goals in the second - from Brown, Bradon and Cole Shudra - put the game beyond doubt, Liam Morris getting one back for the Bison before - fittingly - Adam Barnes fired a piledriver through traffic past Alex Mettam to seal a 6-2 victory.