Leeds Knights new signing Ross Kennedy convinced he is joining NIHL National contender
WHEN he first signed for Leeds last summer, Ross Kennedy was already convinced he was joining a team with bags of potential.
Nine months on, with a new owner and new head coach in place – as well as a new name – that optimistic view of the 23-year-old defenceman has only been strengthened.
There were probably some puzzled reactions around NIHL National league when it emerged Kennedy had swapped life on the roster of a championship-winning side in Telford Tigers, to join the team who had finished at the opposite end of the table.
But, despite the delay brought about by the coronavirus pandemic that scuppered the 2020-21 season and his chances of skating out with Leeds Chiefs, Kennedy is not for turning.
A brief meeting with Knights’ team owner Steve Nell quickly convinced Kennedy he had chosen the right path when first approached by the Chiefs’ player-coach Sam Zajac last year.
The appointment of former Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils head coach Dave Whistle reaffirmed to him further that his original decision was the right one.
He becomes the Knights’ seventh signing of the summer, joining fellow defencemen Zajac, Lewis Baldwin and Jordan Griffin, with netminder Sam Gospel and forwards Joe Coulter and Kieran Brown also on board.
“Despite the long layoff, I still had my heart and mind set on coming to Leeds and I feel like I’m joining a team that has a more solid base now – one that has even more potential,” said Kennedy.
“I just think because of who is in charge, in Steve and Dave, a lot more players will want to come and play for Leeds.
“I’m convinced we’re going to have a great team and, seeing the other D who have already signed, we’re certainly not going to have a problem on the back-end.
“It was no-brainer for me really – you look at what Steve Nell has done in Swindon and he is clearly a guy who knows how to run a hockey club, so who wouldn’t want to work for an owner who has done what Steve has done. I can see him doing the same in Leeds.”
Having come through the junior system at Deeside Dragons, Kennedy first got a taste of second-tier life with a handful of games at Manchester Phoenix, shortly before the demise of the English Premier League.
He made the move away from his boyhood club in time for the start of the 2018-19 NIHL North One season to join Blackburn Hawks, but he soon caught the eye of Telford coach Tom Watkins who prised him away the following year to join the Shropshire club in time for the inaugural NIHL National season.
It’s clearly been a career of steady progression for Kennedy, who believes he can continue his development at Elland Road.
Even though the Knights will be getting a confident player in the Welshman – he finished the 2019-20 double-winning season with Telford as their highest-scoring defenceman with 35 points, including nine goals, in 44 games – they will also be getting a defenceman willing to listen and learn in an attempt to continue improving his craft.
“I like to think I’m pretty composed and read the game pretty well, now that I’ve got a few years under my belt – I feel more comfortable with my own game,” added Kennedy.
“But I’m really looking forward to playing under Dave Whistle. I’m hoping he’s going to improve my game, point me in the right directions when I’m going wrong because, obviously, I’m going to make mistakes.
“I’m probably in the best hands for that. I’m keen to keep learning as there’s always room for improvement.”