Leeds Knights: That’s entertainment as hockey night in Leeds begins to take off at Elland Road
YOU only have to look at the growing number of fans and autograph hunters that gather near the hosts’ changing room after each Leeds Knights home game, to realise that something special might just be starting to take hold at Elland Road Ice Arena.
On Saturday night, 1,125 people attended the Knights’ opening encounter of their NIHL National regular league season campaign against Bees IHC. It was only the small gathering of away fans that left for home disappointed.
Dave Whistle’s team responded to back-to-back defeats in the Autumn Cup by producing a second convincing win of the year over Doug Sheppard’s team.
It may not have been the 7-1 scoreline they enjoyed over the Bees a month ago, but the 5-2 victory still produced plenty to keep fans entertained.
And, essentially, it is the entertainment ‘business’ that Knights’ owner Steve Nell and his team are in – both on and off the ice.
So far, it seems to be working. Of course, it helps when you have a successful ‘product’ on the ice, but that needs to work hand in hand with the overall match-night experience for fans, something Nell is forever tweaking and looking to improve.
Whether it be hockey music classics such as ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Liquidator’ blasting out over the PA, or the theme music from ‘The Great Escape’ whenever the home team successfully kills a penalty, every detail is crucial to helping entice fans to come back for more, week after week.
And it seems to be working. Karen Brown, from Wakefield, first came to a Knights game five weeks ago and has attended every game since, bringing her daughters Eleanor and Laura and her grandson Alex along.
“We’ve all been coming for the last five weeks and we’re hooked,” she said. “We think it is absolutely amazing.
“The atmosphere, the fans and even down to the players – they are absolutely amazing, when it comes to getting something signed, you couldn’t get better. They are all great.”
One thing hockey has always prided itself on is being a sport for all the family and the Knights are sticking to a formula which Nell knows works from his ownership of NIHL rivals Swindon Wildcats.
Walking around the arena on a match night, he regularly hears tales and conversations of how ‘newbies’ are coming back the following week having experienced not just their first Knights game but, in many cases, their first hockey night.
He has made it his intention to sellout the rink ahead of Christmas and while adding another 1,000 or so fans between now and then might prove a tall order, it’s clear the numbers are heading in the right direction.
“We’re obviously still fairly new to Leeds, so it’s about getting people into the building, seeing what we’re about and the entertainment that we’re providing,” said Nell. “I believe the majority of people will have left this building tonight having enjoyed themselves.
“I walk around the rink just to see how things are, get a feel for the mood, or just to see a goal go in from a different angle, get a different perspective. From what I can see and hear, fans seem to be loving it. There are lots of new people here and they all seem to be enjoying it – that is a major positive.”
On the ice, the night didn’t start off too well, Whistle’s team falling behind to a third-minute strike by Juha Lindgren. Thereafter, however, the hosts took control and were 2-1 ahead by the end of the first through Brandon Whistle’s ninth-minute leveller and Matty Davies’s strike at 13.08.
Three further unanswered goals in a frenetic four-minute second period spell then settled the game. Adam Barnes, later awarded man-of-the-match, made it 3-1 just after the halfway mark before Jordan Fisher opened his account for the season two minutes later. Kieran Brown then piled on the agony for the Bees at 34.57.
The visitors, who replaced the unfortunate Curtis Warburton in net shortly after the three-goal blast with Adam Goss, rallied in the third slightly. But they were still only able to find their way past a stubborn Sam Gospel in the Knights net just once when Dominik Gabaj struck at 49.20.
Nell added: “The team are playing a fast-paced style of hockey. We like to score goals and we like to be physical –there’s everything you would want in a hockey game.”