Leeds Knights players keen to get to work with new head coach Dave Whistle
IT is fair to say that Leeds Knights’ players are more than happy with the appointment of new head coach and GM, Dave Whistle.
It has been a busy week or so for the NIHL National team, former Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils’ boss Whistle being announced last Friday before the new ‘Knights’ team name was revealed on Wednesday.
The logo that came with the new identity left some fans upset but, on the whole, it has been an extremely positive four weeks for new team owner Steve Nell.
During that time he has also managed to announce three new signings, with goaltender Sam Gospel being followed on to the roster by defenceman Lewis Baldwin and forward Kieran Brown.
Gospel and Baldwin were, of course, crucial elements of the Leeds Chiefs team put together by former player-coach Sam Zajac for the Leeds club’s inaugural season in 2019-20.
Brown was signed up last summer ready to play for the Chiefs in 2020-21 before the coronavirus pandemic put paid to that for all 10 second-tier clubs.
Now, however, there is a growing sense of optimism surrounding the sport in Leeds, with all three players having reasons to be cheerful over recent developments, in particular the new ownership and with the appointment of the experienced Whistle, who should be installed in his new Elland Road surroundings by mid-July.
After a debut season plagued by off-ice issues throughout, highly-rated netminder Gospel is excited about the future of the West Yorkshire organisation.
“As a player, I feel very optimistic about the next few years in Leeds,” said Gospel.
“Steve wants to make Leeds a team that players want to come back to and one where he can develop a core group that sticks together for a number of years.
“Obviously, you lose a few guys along the way but, for example, at Swindon (Nell’s other club) you never hear of people leaving there to go somewhere else. He wants the same situation in Leeds.”
Gospel admits Whistle’s successful time in charge at Belfast at the turn of the century – where he added a Superleague title and play-off trophy to the regular season championship he’d previously won at Bracknell – was before his time.
But, having done some of his own research on his new boss, he believes the Knights have appointed the ideal man to oversee the development of the club both on and off the ice.
“I saw that he took a brand new club in Belfast and basically turned it into a Championship-winning team,” added Gospel. “And I’m sure that he has the same aspirations for us and, in Leeds, it’s the perfect place to do it because the fanbase has the potential to just sky-rocket.
“If he can do here what he achieved in Belfast that would just be brilliant. He seems like the kind of coach who will get the most out of his players and I’m excited to see what kind of coach he is – it will be really interesting working with him.”
Brown, 20, regarded as one of the UK game’s hottest prospects, admitted he was surprised Leeds appointed someone with the kind of cv that Whistle boasts.
“I didn’t think they would bring somebody in like him, somebody with that much experience – I thought they might go more for a player-coach,” said Brown.
“I’m really impressed and with him coaching younger guys over in Canada these last few years, for the likes of me and Lewis and any other younger players who come to us this season, it should be really good for our development.”
Baldwin believes Whistle will command instant respect in the locker room.
“He’s got such a lot of experience and clearly knows what he is doing, his career and achievements speak for themselves,” said Baldwin.
“I think there will be just instant respect for him here as well, given his cv.
“Having a coach that nobody has been coached by before means it’s a fresh start for everybody – we’ll all be on the same page from the very start.”