Leeds Knights owner Steve Nell backs team to emerge from NIHL National losing streak stronger
LEEDS KNIGHTS owner Steve Nell has backed his team to overcome their current struggles and emerge stronger for it.
A 5-2 defeat at Bees IHC on Sunday night saw the Knights’ losing streak extend to three games. Such a mini-slump is clearly no cause for major concern given the overall length of the 2021-22 NIHL National campaign and especially when you take into account the Knights’ impressive start to the season in the Autumn Cup when they won their first six games.
But, just in case any of his players are feeling too down at the moment, Nell has moved quickly to assure them they have his full backing, allied to a belief that they will be among the contenders for honours come the business end of the season.
Of the 17 players signed by coach Dave Whistle and Nell for the start of the season, six were ruled out of Sunday’s defeat to the Bees.
Five of those absentees were injuries - netminder Sam Gospel, defencemen Jordan Griffin and Ross Kennedy and forwards Cole Shudra and Matty Davies - while D-man Ben Solder was making a third appearance in as many nights back with parent club Manchester Storm in the Elite League.
The very nature of such two-way deals means parent clubs can recall their player at a moment’s notice and it has happened twice already with 20-year-old Solder.
Shudra, himself on a two-way deal with the Steelers, and Griffin won’t return to the fray until some time in December, while veteran centre Davies is out for at least another week with a lower-body injury.
Gospel may struggle to recover in time for this weekend from the hamstring injury which forced him off in the first period of Saturday’s home defeat to Raiders IHC and sit out the defeat at Bees.
It also remains to be seen whether Kennedy will be recovered in time from the knock to the head he suffered in the Raiders loss and which also saw him miss the Bees trip.
All teams, in any sport, endure similarly tough situations throughout the course of a season and Nell is an owner well-versed in dealing with them, having been in charge at Swindon Wildcats since 2004. Having taken over the Leeds franchise back in April, he is effectively building from scratch.
He did not expect it to be a simple task nor an endeavour that would bring overnight success on the ice.
But he is confident that he has the right ingredients in place for the Knights to come through such tough spells, with more no doubt expected to come along the way.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re going in the right direction and I’m very happy with everything,” said Nell. “We’ll get though these injuries and get players back over the next few weeks. Every team goes through it, it happens in every team sport, there are always ebbs and flows.
“And let’s not forget, this is a good league. It’s looking very close and if we can be in the top half of that table and then maybe the top four, we’ll be doing very well.”
On the electrifying start to the season which saw the Knights go toe-to-toe with Yorkshire rivals Sheffield before being pipped for the top of the Autumn Cup group standings and with it the No 1 seeding for the semi-finals, Nell admits he was slightly taken by surprise.
“In all honesty, we couldn’t have expected it to go this well,” he added. “From the start of the season and the number of games that we had undefeated, it is unusual for a team to start like that. Getting to the Autumn Cup semi-finals is a big positive for us as a team, winning all the games that we did.
“We started well in the league, too, but we’ve been hit with a few injuries now but every team will go through that and I know this bunch of lads will bounce back from it.
“The boys did really well over the weekend and could have won both games. With that many players missing and still being in with a chance to win, that is something to look at in a positive light.
“Yes, we’ve lost a few games, but we’re going to lose a few games - it’s sport, that’s what happens.”