Leeds Knights: Young guns lead the scoring line as Knights show early signs of promise
IF you want a clue as to why Leeds Knights are joint-top of the NIHL Autumn Cup group standings after the first three games, just look at the top of the individual points-scoring table.
Once there, you will notice the Knights occupy the top three positions - all of them relatively young, rising stars in the sport. Look a little further down and you will spot they have five players among the fledgling top 10.
Clearly, it is obviously very early days in the 2021-22 NIHL National campaign and such statistics count for little at this stage. But having scored 19 goals in their three cup games, it is early confirmation that Dave Whistle’s team have some serious firepower in their ranks.
Kieran Brown, 20, who enjoyed a weekend to remember with two man-of-the-match performances, already has 12 points – including five goals – to his name.
Next up is 23-year-old Cole Shudra, with the Knights on a two-way deal from the Elite League’s Sheffield Steelers, who has posted eight points, three of them goals.
Adam Barnes, 22, is close behind in third place with two goals and five assists, while Brandon Whistle (4+2) and experienced centre Matty Davies, with two goals and four assists, are just a point further back, tied with a number of players from rival teams.
There’s no doubt Leeds have amassed an impressive array of forward talent during the summer, some of which was originally put in place last year by Leeds Chiefs’ player-coach Sam Zajac in preparation for a 2020-21 campaign that never materialised because of the pandemic.
The Knights’ top two lines – Lewis Houston completes the six with two goals and an assist to his name – are among the most potent within the second tier.
But such personal accolades, while always welcome, count for little if the team isn’t winning. So far, Leeds are, tied at the top of the standings with Sheffield Steeldogs, the only teams with a 100 per cent record.
For former Steelers’ forward Brown, life in a Knights jersey could not have started much better.
“It’s been great so far and, while it’s obviously good to get goals or points or whatever, it’s all about the team really and making sure we’re pushing for the league and the playoffs this season,” said Brown after posting a nine-point weekend, including three goals, in wins over Swindon Wildcats and Telford Tigers.
“As a team, we can feel the momentum in the room and on the ice. The first game, we were just a new team and just gelling together but after this past couple of games, we seem to be coming together well. I think we’re on to something good.
On playing alongside current line-mates Houston and Barnes, the latter who he played alongside in juniors at Bradford Bulldogs, Brown added: “It’s going well. We didn’t start off together, we just got put together randomly in a game and we just kind of clicked.
“Now we’ve been training together week-in, week-out and we just seem to be gelling and working really well together.”
Head coach Whistle is fully aware of the talent at his disposal and is happy to see it unleashed as often as possible, as long as it is balanced by a defensive responsibility, something his players seem to be developing with each passing game.
“We’ve got players that want to and can score, we really do,” said Whistle. “We’ve got a couple of lines that want to score, but, at times, they might have to give up that scoring opportunity just to chip it in and battle down low and just eat the clock up a bit when we need them to.
“And 60 minutes is a long time sometimes when you’re up by a goal or two – but the players did a great job, they protected the lead on Sunday against Telford and we got the win.”