Lewis Baldwin sticking around to prove Leeds can cut it in NIHL National
WITH Lewis Baldwin, you get the sense that there is unfinished business when it comes to hockey in Leeds.
Making himself part of history when signing up for the Leeds Chiefs under Sam Zajac back in the summer of 2019, the 21-year-old defenceman went on to be one of the positives for a team which endured a baptism of fire in its debut campaign.
In what was also the inaugural season for the NIHL National, the UK game’s second tier, Billingham-born Baldwin ended a campaign cut short by the coronavirus pandemic as the team’s second-highest points scorer.
Scoring 13 goals and 23 assists in 43 appearances, the former Bradford Bulldogs junior comfortably proved he belonged at that level.
Now, having agreed terms with new team owner Steve Nell to continue his career at Elland Road, Baldwin is keen to show that Leeds possesses a side that can be the equal of any of its rivals.
And in Nell, he believes they have the man with the vision and drive to create something special in West Yorkshire.
“With being in at the start with the Chiefs, I’ve probably got a close attachment to the team because I was here when it all began,” said Baldwin.
“A few of us went through thick and thin and, partly, I think I’m coming back to prove to people that we had the makings of a good team here.
“It obviously didn’t help playing and training out of Blackburn and wherever else we had to go because we didn’t have our own rink from the start, so we almost need to write that season off and kind of start again, knowing we have the rink in place and that we’re ready to go.”
Baldwin, along with a number of former Chiefs’ team-mates including Adam Barnes, Bobby Streetly, Harrison Walker and Joe Coulter, has been able to find ice in recent weeks by playing for NIHL North One outfit Widnes Wild. They have been joined on the Wild Roster by Baldwin’s fellow Bulldogs’ graduates, forward Kieran Brown and defenceman Jordan Griffin, who were both slated to play for Leeds in the 2021-22 season that never was.
The games have provided a welcome reminder of what the majority of players have been missing over the last 12 months or so because of the pandemic and Baldwin is keen to get the ball rolling in Leeds again as soon as possible.
“I like the sound of what Steve has got planned for Leeds,” he added. “He’s a guy who has come in and taken charge and has got things going again. He’s got some good ideas in his head and a path laid out in front of him of where he wants to take things.
“He knows what he is doing and you only have to look at what he’s done at Swindon to realise that that is the way things can be here.
“You get the impression that, under Steve, this can be something special to be a part of here and that, in a few years’ time it could be a really top team.”
Nell is yet to appoint a new head coach, while he hopes to reveal the new team name sometime in the next couple of weeks.
Getting Baldwin on board for what everyone hopes will be a September start for the 2021-22 season was another key deal which he feels he had to get done – much like with netminder Sam Gospel last week – before having his coach in place.
“Lewis was obviously a big player for the Chiefs during that first season, he put up some good numbers but, with me, it’s not always about the numbers,” said Nell.
“I liked him as soon as I met him. He’s a good lad, he’s positive, he’s keen to play for the new team and that’s all I needed to hear.
“As a result we came to an agreement very easily and very quickly. Players like Sam and Lewis are the ones that have been through that tough first year, they’ve been through what were a lot of ups and downs.
“They are invested in the city, they are invested in playing for Leeds.
“And that will come through in their performances and is exactly what we are looking for – we’re looking for people who are passionate about the team.
“And Lewis fits that bill exactly – he is one of those players who will have the heart and desire that we want.”
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