Milton Keynes Lightning 4 Leeds Chiefs 6 - Andres Kopstals at the double as Chiefs move on up
IT may only be one position, but it will have been of huge significance to Leeds Chiefs after a thrilling road win at Milton Keynes Lightning finally saw them move off the bottom of the NIHL National standings.
Rooted there following the first full weekend of the 2019-20 campaign, their albeit minor elevation saw them replaced at the bottom by last night’s hosts.
The triumph gave them their first four-point weekend after Friday night’s backs-to-the-wall 3-2 win at Sheffield Steeldogs, which saw goaltender Sam Gospel produce a man-of-the-match performance when he turned away 54 of 56 shots on his goal.
While they wait for their Elland Road rink to be completed, Leeds play the first of their scheduled ‘home’ games next weekend against the Steeldogs, albeit at Blackburn where they are set to host two other games in November, with another match staged at Widnes.
“We’re absolutely delighted to be returning home to Leeds with our first four-point weekend in the books,” said player-coach Sam Zajac.
"It is the first in our history and is an indication of how well we are developing as a team at the moment."
As if to throw another curve ball in their general direction, the team bus broke down for a short spell on the M1 but, unlike the previous few games where Zajac admitted his team had been slow starters, it seemed to have the opposite effect.
Having arrived in the building less than an hour before face-off, the Chiefs got off to the perfect start, going 1-0 ahead after just 110 seconds through an Adam Barnes power play strike.
Import centre Andres Kopstals opened his account for the season to make it 2-0 at 12.13, but the hosts were level early in the second period after two efforts from Rio Grenell-Parke.
But the visitors re-established their superiority quickly, Steven Moore making it 3-2 at 27.02 with Joe Coulter’s first for the Chiefs doubling the lead just 50 seconds later.
Again, howver, the Lightning refused to buckle, drawing level within four minutes through goals from new signing Tom Carlon and Cale Tanaka.
But, once Barnes’s second power play effort of the night went in at 33.35, there was no way back for the hosts, Kopstals scoring short-handed early in the third to seal a deserved victory.
Zajac had spoken about how it was time his team started pushing towards the play-off places ahead of yesterday’s trip down the M1 and he got what he was looking for.
“They were two really different games," added Zajac. "Sheffield was on a knife edge all night and chances were at a premium, whereas the game in MK was more old fashioned, end-to-end, run-and-gun hockey.
“But that just shows that we can adapt, and it was great to see different guys come to the fore for us.
“Barnesy was absolutely deadly all weekend with four goals, and he’s showing that he has got all the tools to be a huge player at this level.
“It was great to see Bobby Streetly and Joe Coulter record their first goals for the club and they were two huge, timely goals at that.
“But I’m absolutely delighted that Andres Kopstals has finally got off the mark.
“He’s the hardest working guy on the ice every night, a real unsung hero for us, so to see him rewarded with his first two goals at MK was great.”