Leeds Knights struggling for numbers on last weekend of regular season

IN an ideal world, Leeds Knights would take four points from their final weekend of the NIHL National regular season, finish second overall and carry a truckload of momentum into the play-offs.
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Try as they might, that dream scenario is going to be difficult to pull off, with head coach Ryan Aldridge half-joking that the next two days will simply be about survival more than anything else.

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Already missing influential centre Matty Davies through an upper-body injury - he hasn’t played since the 4-3 win at Milton Keynes Lightning on March 12 - Aldridge knew he would also be without 17-year-old defenceman Archie Hazeldine, who is away for two weekends with Great Britain Under-18s to contest the Division 2A IIHF World Championships.

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And with two-way forward Harry Gulliver also not being made available by Elite League parent club Manchester Storm since the 8-5 home win over Swindon Wildcats on February 27, there is another significant part of the Knights’ forward arsenal gone.

Now throw into the mix three more players being unavailable through illness - forwards Ethan Hehir and Joe Coulter, along with D-man Ross Kennedy - you begin to realise Aldridge may not be joking after all.

Having tried and so far been unsuccessful in bringing in additional bodies, Aldridge is likely to head down to Basingstoke Bison today with six forwards and five defenders, unless last night harvested some late replacements from somewhere. At least he has a full goaltending unit on the team coach in the shape of Sam Gospel and Niks Trapans.

Regardless, the Knights have been short-benched before and come through it. Anyone remember October?

Ethan Hehir is out for the last weekend of the regular season for Leeds Knights due to illness. 
Picture: Bruce RollinsonEthan Hehir is out for the last weekend of the regular season for Leeds Knights due to illness. 
Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Ethan Hehir is out for the last weekend of the regular season for Leeds Knights due to illness. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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At least the reasons behind the absence of Hehir, Coulter and Kennedy are expected to be short-term, with Aldridge hopeful of all three being fit and ready when the post-season gets underway a week today.

Quite who the Knights will be facing next weekend in the play-offs is anyone’s guess,

“This weekend is all about just getting through without any picking up any further injuries or similar problems and starting that first round of the play-offs in a healthy position,” said Aldridge.

“All being well, we can get some of these boys back into the line-up for that first weekend.”

Leeds Knights head coach Ryan Aldridge will be down to the bare bones for the final weekend of trhe regular season.

Picture: Bruce RollinsonLeeds Knights head coach Ryan Aldridge will be down to the bare bones for the final weekend of trhe regular season.

Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Leeds Knights head coach Ryan Aldridge will be down to the bare bones for the final weekend of trhe regular season. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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The loss of Hehir and Coulter is particularly tough given the former had been filling in admirably at first-line centre for Davies, with Coulter’s absence from the middle of the second/third line presenting another problem.

The continued absence of Davies is the biggest concern for Aldridge, who has quickly become a big admirer of the one-time GB international.

“Having Matty out again is a massive miss for us,” added Aldridge. “When we had Matty in the line-up we went on a little five-game winning streak - every game we went into we felt we were the favourites, felt we had a chance to win

“And so it’s been tough and while I can’t talk about before I came, since I came in he has been unbelievable – I’m really proud of him.”

The Knights have only a handful of tickets left for tomorrow night’s season-closer at home to Sheffield Steeldogs.