Leeds Knights v Swindon Wildcats: Why coach Dave Whistle won’t be easy to win around

IT’S likely Leeds Knights’ players will have to produce something pretty special against Swindon Wildcats in order to win around coach Dave Whistle.

By Phil Harrison
Sunday, 2nd January 2022, 5:57 pm

The Canadian went into 2022 in sombre mood, left hugely frustrated by his team’s 5-3 loss to an under-strength Sheffield Steeldogs at Ice Sheffield on Friday afternoon.

Yes, the hosts certainly had more recognisable names on their bench compared to five days’ previously when they could barely muster two lines in a 7-4 defeat at Elland Road.

But, as far as Whistle was concerned, a team still coming back together after being ripped to shreds by injuries and Covid should still have been there for the taking.

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Leeds Knights head coach, Dave Whistle. Picture: James Hardisty/JPIMedia.

It did indeed look as if the Knights were going to repeat their four-goal first-period haul from the Boxing Day derby on home ice after they raced into a 2-0 lead inside eight minutes.

But it was clear from the outset they were up against a much more resilient Steeldogs’ team and failed to build on that early advantage, the hosts proving deserving winners, thanks in large part to a two-goal third period blast from Lee Bonner in his first match back.

Whistle was clearly frustrated by his players’ efforts, not least because it allowed the Steeldogs to increase their advantage in the table over the fifth-placed Knights to five points ahead of last night’s game at Milton Keynes Lightning.

While he is the first to acknowledge he has some of the most skilful forwards in the league within his ranks - Kieran Brown, Brandon Whistle, Adam Barnes and Matty Davies among them - Whistle believes his team lacks the necessary physical edge at times, something he plans to address during practice over the next couple of weeks.

“I was really disappointed in the guys (on Friday) to be honest,” said Whistle. “Sheffield was a team that still had key players missing. We jump out into a two-nothing lead and I think we just thought it was going to happen for us because of that.

“But Sheffield hung around and hung around, they played well defensively and they chipped the puck in - they didn’t try to start beating everybody one on one.

“We did and we kept doing it all game and it should prove to them (my players) that they can’t play like that.”

Whistle felt the first Steeldogs’ goal, when Lee Haywood was allowed a second chance to score from in front of the net, summed up his team’s shortcomings.

Adam Barnes brings down Thomas Malasinski during Leeds Knights' Autumn Cup Final with Swindon Wildcats. Picture: Bruce Rollinson/JPIMedia.

“That first goal was a bad goal to give up,” added Whistle. “I don’t know why, but we are a team that does not want to finish checks, we want to just poke the puck away and go again.

“All they had to do was finish their check and the guy standing there wouldn’t have been able to put the puck in the net.

“They are going to have some tough practices coming up over the next weeks and I told them that afterwards.

“They are going to be skating pretty hard - we’’re going to do battle drills on top of battle drills on top of battle drills.

“And if they don’t buy into it, they are not going to play. That game really, really upset me. We had a great chance to move closer to that top four and solidify ourselves in that top group and we didn’t do it.”

Whistle feels a harder, physical edge among some of his players could also be utilised at times in the offensive zone, where he feels his team needs to be more flexible in their approach.

“Sheffield kept it simple, when they didn’t have anybody on, they dumped it in,” said the 55-year-old. “We don’t get any rebound goals hardly ever and it is because we are not physical enough and because we don’t go into the dirty areas.

“Just go to the net, drive the net, shoot the puck, get rebounds.

“We’re going to have to make sure we’re at our best to beat Swindon. It doesn’t matter if they are still missing guys or not, Sheffield were still missing key guys on Friday, but we still weren’t able to put them away.”

Monday’s meeting against Swindon at Elland Road (5.15pm) offers Leeds an early chance to exact swift revenge over Aaron Nell’s team, coming less than two weeks after their last visit to West Yorkshire for the Autumn Cup Final, a thrilling 5-4 win on the night giving them an 8-6 aggregate triumph.

But, due in large part to Covi-related issues, the Wildcats have lost all four games since, their latest being a 5-3 defeat at home to second-bottom Bees on New Year’s Day. Whistle will hope to have captain Sam Zajac back in the line-up, the 32-year-old being unavailable for the three games since the team’s Autumn Cup Final heartache.

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