Sam Gospel and Leeds Chiefs intent on bridging NIHL National playoff gap

EVEN if Leeds Chiefs’ bid to make the NIHL National playoffs does come up short, goaltender Sam Gospel will still take great pride if they can ensure they hold themselves “accountable” between now and the end of the season.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 12:58 pm
Leeds Chiefs' netminder, SAm Gospel. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

With 19 games remaining, the odds are stacked against a Chiefs side who remain firmly rooted to the foot of the standings, 11 points adrift of Raiders IHC, the team who currently sit in the eighth and final playoff spot.

The Chiefs do have to play the Raiders in the run-in, and have two games in hand on them, but, in all likelihood, they are going to have to rely on a combination of a significant upturn in their own form and favours from elsewhere in order to overturn the deficit.

With seventh-placed Sheffield Steeldogs nine points better off than the Raiders, it is essentially a three-way battle for one playoff spot, Bracknell Bees finding themselves sandwiched between Leeds and their Romford-based rivals.

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Gospel, like everyone else on the Chiefs’ roster remains confident of bridging the gap – however tall an order it may seem at the moment – but, after what he admits has so far been a less than successful campaign, he simply wants to ensure the organisation finishes their debut campaign positively, in order to build momentum for the 2020-21 season.

“Realistically, we probably have to win around two-thirds of our remaining games in order to stand a chance of making the playoffs,” said 25-year-old Gospel. “It also relies on other teams around us not picking up too many points.

“If we can hold ourselves accountable between now and the end of the season I’ll be proud. If we finish these remaining 19 games in a positive way by winning as many as possible I’ll be happy.

“To this point it hasn’t been the most successful campaign but if we can prove to ourselves that we can beat teams on a regular basis, rather than just a game here and there, that will be a big boost.

Leeds Chiefs' netminder, Sam Gospel, takes a breather during last Sunday's win at Telford Tigers. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

“I’d love to make the playoffs, we all would, that is the reason we all play, to have that pressure.”

The Chiefs showed their potential in the best possible way last Sunday when finally getting the better of leaders Telford Tigers, prevailing 3-2 after a shootout.

It was a sweet moment for all involved on the away bench and restored self-belief in player-coach Sam Zajac’s team at a time when it was needed most, particularly ahead of a weekend that brings them up against an in-form Milton Keynes Lightning and second-placed Swindon Wildcats, who still harbour ambitions of closing the gap on Telford.

“In the post-game chat we discussed as a group how that win should be a turning point for us,” added Gospel.

Leeds CHiefs' players surround netminder Sam Gospel after their shootout win in Telford. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

“Hopefully we can now string a few wins together and get on a bit of a roll because beating top of the table shows us that we are good enough to beat anyone on any night.

“It was a great morale boost for everyone and was just what we needed to confirm to ourselves as much as anyone that we are still a good team.”