Reasons to be cheerful for Leeds Chiefs' Richard Bentham as he returns 'home'

THERE were many reasons behind RIchard Bentham’s decision to make the switch to Leeds Chiefs in the summer.

Friday, 8th November 2019, 2:11 pm
Updated Saturday, 9th November 2019, 11:49 am

READ MORE - Leeds Chiefs coach Sam Zajac happy with his options ahead of derby date at Hull PiratesFirstly, having spent the previous season in Scotland – his third north of the border – it provided him with a chance to move back closer to his hometown of Bolton, while the fact three of his Solway Sharks team-mates were also heading to West Yorkshire to join Sam Zajac’s team was another plus-point.

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But the one thing that got the 29-year-old excited perhaps more than anything else, was his chats with player-coach Zajac which centred around the chance of him returning to play a role on the team’s defence – a position he regards as ‘home’.

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“When I was speaking to Sammy over the summer, we were obviously talking a bit about where he saw me playing,” said Bentham. “He might have seen me play a bit as a forward last year when I was playing for Solway against Whitley, but Sammy has only really known me from my younger days as a defenceman.

“I am more than happy to play whatever position Sam wants me to, I really am, but as soon it was discussed about the possibility of me playing defence my eyes lit straight up.

“I just feel back home again playing on D again. It’s a more natural position for me and I feel that as I’m playing more and more back there this season, I am starting to click more and play the way I used to do.

“At first I was just concentrating on sorting my defensive position but now I’m getting a bit more confident in carrying the puck which, as a kid playing D, was one of my main strengths.

MR ADAPTABLE: Richard Bentham, left, tries to clear the crease in front of Sam Gospels net in the 6-4 win at Milton Keynes last month. Picture courtesy of Tony Sargent.

“And I’m happy to see we have signed young Brodie Jesson earlier this week as, hopefully, that will give me the opportunity to play full-time on D which will give us six back there.

“I do feel like I’ve been doing well there. My mum and dad have been coming to watch me play hockey for years now and they said this is the happiest they have ever been watching me.”

Lack of available ice time in Lancashire saw him take – thanks to extremely supportive and proud parents – a weekly four-hour round trip every Tuesday from Bolton to Nottingham where the possibility of training with older age groups saw his game develop at a rapid pace.

Richard Bentham, in action for Solway Sharks at Whitley Bay last season. Picture courtesy of Colin Lawson.

Regarded as one of the most talented youngsters in the English game during his teenage years, Bentham gradually migrated to becoming a forward, a role he has largely stuck with throughout a senior career that has taken him all over the UK, from the Isle of Wight to Dumfries and numerous stops in-between.

Starting out with a shorter bench than the majority of their NIHL National rivals in their first season means Bentham has played a key dual role for the Chiefs, one that Zajac knew he could fill so well and one which has often seen him out on the ice on one shift as a D-man, while his next stint could see him playing as a forward.

A tough start to life in UK hockey – their preparations undoubtedly hindered by the fact their new rink is yet to be completed – meant it was at the sixth time of asking that Zajac’s team tasted victory.

Two more victories have followed and as the season reaches its quarter-way mark this weekend, the Chiefs remain outside the top eight playoff spots.

Leeds Chiefs' player-coach, Sam Zajac. Picture courtesy of Chris Stratford.

But, rather than just settling for one of the bottom half post-season berths, Bentham sees no reason why the Chiefs should not set their targets higher.

“With three wins, eight losses and an overtime point at this stage, if somebody said offered us that at the start of the season, we would probably have taken it,” added the former GB Under-18 international.

“But now it is our time to push on now because we are not that far off all the other teams – we’ve shown that by the way we have competed. We will only get better and our aim is to push for that top four by the end of the regular season.

“Some people might say that is way above what our expectation levels should be, but we have got the belief that we can do it.”