Road sense of Leeds Chiefs can enable ideal home start

SUNDAY’S clash against Sheffield Steeldogs in Blackburn may be officially classed as Leeds Chiefs’ first-ever home game but, in truth, they are approaching the encounter like any other road game.

Saturday, 2nd November 2019, 9:54 am
Updated Saturday, 2nd November 2019, 11:27 am
Leeds Chiefs' Player-coach Sam Zajac. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

Given the continued delays to the completion of their Elland Road rink, the Chiefs have played all their first 10 games on the road and, despite four ‘home’ games scheduled throughout the next month, they will still be clocking up the miles twice a weekend.

The hope is that some time in December, the Chiefs will indeed get to skate out in front of their home fans in their hometown.

Before that historic moment, player-coach Sam Zajac will have hoped to have sampled the new home ice via several practice sessions, bringing a welcome end to the Wednesday night sessions they have been forced to undertake in Blackburn for the past six weeks or so.

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The Chiefs’ management are hoping hundreds of fans will make the 117-mile round trip to Lancashire to cheer on their team in the third instalment of their growing Yorkshire rivalry with the Steeldogs – maybe similar in number to the 300-plus who cheered them on at Ice Sheffield in that historic first game back on September 15.

Before derby day, though, the Chiefs have the small matter of another road trip, one which takes them back to Shropshire to take on an in-form Telford Tigers team sitting second in the NIHL National standings on the back of a run of nine wins in their last 10 games.

It will be the Chiefs’ second visit to Telford this season, having lost 5-2 back in September in only their second-ever game.

But Zajac knows he will lead out a team against Tommy Watkins’s side bursting with confidence after wins over the Steeldogs and Milton Keynes Lightning last weekend saw them move off the bottom of the table for the first time.

WE MEET AGAIN: The Leeds Chiefs' goal comes under threat from Telford Tigers on their last visit there in September. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

“To be honest, I think Telford away is probably one of the hardest fixtures in this league this year, if not the hardest,” said Zajac.

“We now they are going to come out flying, we know they are going to come out hard but we’re a confident bunch after last week and we don’t want to stop there, we want to kick on even more and, hopefully, we can turn over another big team.”

With the Steeldogs’ only game this weekend against the Chiefs, Zajac expects Ben Morgan’s team to prove a tough obstacle as they bid to halt a run of four straight defeats.

And while he admits his team’s regular on-ice sessions at Lancashire may offer a slight ‘home’ advantage, they will approach the game like they have every other one this season.

RIVAL: Sheffield Steeldogs' player-coach, Ben Morgan. Picture courtesy of Cerys Molloy.

“We’ll have that little bit of familiarity, little things like the dressing rooms and stuff like that, but the size of the pad in Blackburn is probably quite similar to Sheffield, so we’re going to approach it the same way as we would if we were playing at their place.

“And last time we played there we had that great result and we’re just looking for more of the same to keep things rolling. In one sense, it’s another road game for us and we’ve turned into a good team on the road. We know how to win on the road.

“Morgs and Woody will have their boys playing desperate, but we’re the same – we’re desperate to climb up the standings even, we’re not satisfied at ninth we want to get to eighth, then seventh and just keep going.”

Zajac said he was hoping to add at least one new face to his forward options in time for this weekend’s two games, if only on a temporary basis.

It follows the departure of winger Andrew Hirst earlier this week, the second player to head through the exit door this season after Chris Sykes.