Leeds Knights: Tate Shudra forces his way into Ryan Aldridge's plans for 2022-23 NIHL National season

FOR his first season in senior hockey, it should come as no surprise for Tate Shudra to be pleased with how things went.

The pandemic had effectively delayed his introduction to the ‘adult’ game by a year or so but, once in, his progression was swift, starting out in NIHL North Two with Sheffield Titans and playing junior hockey with Sheffield Academy, to ending the 2021-22 campaign as a regular in NIHL National with Leeds Knights.

It was Dave Whistle who gave him his first opportunity in the second tier at Elland Road, the teenager initially coming up with older brother Cole to take part in a couple of practice sessions before being handed his first chance to sample life at the higher level.

But, crucially, it was the younger Shudra’s performances at the back-end of the season that mattered most, impressing Whistle’s replacement behind the bench, Ryan Aldridge.

BACK FOR GOOD: Tate Shudra impressed enough during the 2021-22 season to earn himself full-time deal at Leeds Knights. Picture courtesy of Oliver Portamento/Leeds Knights

The Knights head coach clearly liked what he saw, to the extent that he offered Shudra the chance to come back full-time for 2022-23.

It was an opportunity the youngster was more than happy to accept.

“When I first came in to practice at Leeds last season, it was very tough,” said Shudra. “Within the first 10 minutes, I could tell it was a big step up for me - it was much harder, much faster.

“But I liked the challenge and as I got into the season, I became more confident, more confident on the puck and carrying it a lot more, more confident in my own end, carrying it off the boards and out of my own zone and making plays. It was a great opportunity for me.”

ON THE RISE: Tate Shudra showed he was good enough to deal with what NIHL National could throw at him and returns on a full-time basis for Leeds Knights. Picture courtesy of Oliver Portamento/Leeds Knights.

At times last season, Shudra found himself playing for Sheffield Under-18s in the mornings before joining the Knights for games later that night. It was a tough, at times, punishing schedule but one fully embraced by Shudra, keen to prove he belonged at the higher level.

Towards the end of the season, partly through a shortage of bodies, Aldridge entrusted the younger Shudra with more ice time, more responsibility, something the youngster thrived on.

“We were short for the last two regular season games and we called up two more guys my age and I was put out rotating as a second centreman,” he recalls. “They were hard games, but I got more minutes and I found my confidence growing.

“It gave me a big boost to know that Ryan trusted me to play that role and playing 20-plus minutes in those games helped me develop a lot.

Cole Shudra, in action for Leeds Knights against Sheffield Steeldogs last season Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“With it being my first-ever senior season, even with the Titans I was struggling in my first few games but, after scoring and getting into my groove I was confident with them and then I stepped up to Scimitars and scored a few goals and points there, too.

“So, it’s been a really good season and it feels like I’ve made a rapid progression.”

While Shudra feels his confidence rapidly grew the more time he spent in and around the Knights set-up, head coach Aldridge says it was the 18-year-old’s self-belief which stood out from the first time he saw him.

“The thing with Tate is that he wants to be a hockey player - he’s serious about being a hockey player,” said Aldridge. "He came in and really surprised everybody, especially myself, with how confident he was.

Ryan Aldridge, Leeds Knights head coach. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“To have the confidence he came in with and to play the way he did for us was great and, a young talent like that, we just had to have him back. He deserves to be with us full-time.”