Leeds Knights v Telford Tigers – Brandon Whistle anticipates tough test from former team-mates
SHOULD Dave Whistle require any guidance on tomorrow’s visitors to Elland Road, he won’t have to look too far.
Of course, the Leeds Knights coach will have gained invaluable insight into how his team’s Shropshire rivals play following a pre-season challenge game between the two a fortnight ago at St Quentin Gate, the visitors coming away with a 3-2 win.
But in order to find out what really makes the Tigers tick, he need only have a word with a player who played a significant role in Tom Watkins’s side winning an NIHL National league and cup double in the 2019-20 season.
That player is Whistle’s son Brandon, now playing under him at Leeds and having impressed greatly since coming on board, registering two goals and an assist in last weekend’s 7-1 win over Bees IHC in the NIHL Autumn Cup.
He has also earned warm praise from Sheffield Steelers’ head coach Aaron Fox, who has been impressed with Whistle since joining the Elite League club on a two-way deal and having attended their pre-season training camp.
But it is Leeds that is the main priority for both father and son and, ahead of facing off against his former team-mates tomorrow (5.15pm), Whistle Jnr knows a serious test of the Knights’ credentials awaits.
“When we played them in pre-season, I kind of already knew how they would play, not that that makes it any easier,” said Whistle.
“They have a similar roster to when I was there and they are going to play the same way every night, stick to their systems and just generally be very hard to play against.
“They are just a very strong team all over the ice and, along with Swindon, maybe Milton Keynes and Sheffield, they are probably going to be up there challenging again this season.
“They are physical, fast and have some skilled guys. Scott McKenzie, for example, is a guy who can score 30-40 goals in this league, he’s a dangerous player. I loved playing with him – the plays he makes are very good for this league.
“He’s one of the better players in the league, along with Jason Silverthorn, a guy who just led by example on and off the ice - he did everything the right way.”
Having spent a frustrating season with the Steelers in 2018-19 under head coach Tom Barrasso, Whistle found himself looking for a new home after Fox decided he was not part of his plans for his first season in charge at Sheffield.
After a month or so, Telford goalkeeper and fellow former Steeler Brad Day put Whistle in touch with Watkins and, after a couple of lengthy telehpone conversations, he was heading back to the UK.
Having missed the opening few games, Whistle caught up fast, becoming one of the main contributors offensively as the Tigers swept all before them, winning the regular season title comfortably, while also lifting the NIHL Cup.
The 23-year-old posted 59 points in 37 games, including 22 goals, the confidence which had taken something of a battering the season before under Barrasso, now fully restored.
“I really like playing for Tom Watkins, I’d play for him again in a heartbeat,” recalled Whistle.
“Every guy knows their role and accepts their role, which is important because I know sometimes in a team that can be a hard thing.
“But down in Telford everybody knew their role, everybody played to a system.
“And Tom also let you make mistakes – so if you made a mistake you weren’t getting harped on and then you wouldn’t be scared to go out and try to make that play again. Under Tom, everything was okay.
“Guys really enjoy playing for Tom – I know I did for sure.”
Having found shifts hard to come by under Barrasso, Whistle was happy playing for a coach who allowed him and other to express themselves offensively.
“The big thing was just going back to a league where I had the puck on my stick a lot,” he added.
“Being in Sheffield the year before – getting the odd shift here and there – it’s hard to generate any kind of momentum if you don’t have the puck and you’re just kind of chasing it a bit.
“So it was awesome because I went down to Telford and I could have a little bit of freedom which I was kind of used to a little bit through playing in junior hockey.
“It was just nice to get the confidence back and once you have your confidence, plays just start to happen.”