Leeds Knights see NIHL National lead and regulation loss status disappear in one night
and live on Freeview channel 276
Yes, the 4-1 defeat on home ice to Swindon Wildcats on Sunday night will have hurt and, combined with results elsewhere, it also saw the Knights’ narrow lead at the top of the standings finally disappear as the equally-relentless Peterborough Phantoms drew level on points.
The Knights do have a game in hand but, in a perfect piece of timing, will find their title credentials sorely tested next Saturday when the in-form Phantoms pay a second visit of the season to Elland Road.
The Knights will already be going into that clash missing four players, with Archie Hazeldine, Oliver Endicott, Carter Hamill and Tate Shudra away on international duty with Great Britain Under-20s at the World Championships in Lithuania.
Throw into the mix the possibility that they may also be missing key defensive pair Jordan Griffin and Sam Zajac – with upper-body and lower-body injuries respectively - and head coach Ryan Aldridge will see his resources stretched to the limit.
Aldridge felt the loss against Swindon was partly the result of the tough examination his players were given the previous evening during their 3-0 win over Bristol Pitbulls.
“I think we were a tired group tonight,” said Aldridge. “We started well and got an early goal, we hit the post and had a couple of other chances and the game was very similar to how it was in Swindon, but the other way around – they came in, we outshot them but they won the hockey game.
“I just think we lost our feet, lost our energy and then when we lost our energy we lost our brains and it just wasn’t our night – but we had given it our all in Bristol to get the win.
“In fact, this game was probably lost on Saturday night because we had a really hard game, probably one of the hardest we’ve had all season. It was one of the most end-to-end hockey games we’ve had all year, they came out flying.
“I said afterwards that my worry was after such a game as the one in Bristol, that tonight (Sunday) it might cost us and it did.”
Despite his concerns, Leeds – missing Zajac as they were the night before in Bristol – actually started brightly against Swindon, came out of the blocks flying and deservedly went ahead with just 41 seconds on the board when Kieran Brown fired in from close range.
Zach Brooks went close to making it 2-0 but the slender lead was eroded less than two minutes later when Wildcats’ Aaron Nell tipped in from Edgars Bebris at 3.08.
Just over three more minutes had elapsed when the visitors went ahead, their player-coach all alone at the back post to fire past Sam Gospel for his second of the night.
Griffin staggered off towards the end of the period after a hit from Tyler Plews on the left-hand boards and, worryingly, failed to return putting him in doubt for next weekend.
Swindon were coming out on top in most of the physical exchanges and were doing their best to rattle the hosts. They were rewarded for their efforts when they doubled their lead just before the halfway mark through Tomasz Malasinski.
Leeds came out for the third knowing they needed a big 20-minutes, but saw their task get even tougher when Swindon increased their lead further at 43.19 through Colby Tower’s back-handed effort through traffic.
The hosts dominated possession for the most thereafter, but an experienced Swindon team gave them few clear scoring opportunities, holding out for a deserved fifth straight win.
On Saturday, Aldridge and his players found it difficult to find a way through a resolute Bristol team, who they had hammered 7-1 at Elland Road only last month.
But Pitbulls’ coach Jamie Elson has made a number of roster changes recently and it looked to have paid off as his team proved more than a match for the leaders on their first visit to the venue.
In the end, the Knights produced a clinical third period at Bristol Pitbulls, running out 3-0 winners, with Sam Gospel recording his second shutout in three games.
Goalless after two periods, the deadlock was broken on the powerplay at 42.52 when Cole Shudra fired home from 10 yards following a pinpoint first-time feed from Dylan Hehir.
But the Knights could never afford to relax all night as they were pushed hard all the way by the Pitbulls. But they gave themselves some welcome breathing space when Zach Brooks played in Kieran Brown who broke clear before seeing his shot just squeeze through netminder Will Kerlin at 53.20.
As the Pitbulls pushed for a way back, they pulled Kerlin, the gamble eventually allowing Adam Barnes to make sure of 19th win of the season with an empty-net strike.