Sam Zajac faces tough task in bid to bolster depth at Leeds Chiefs

SAM ZAJAC would love to inject some new blood into his Leeds Chiefs roster in time for Saturday - but he knows that will be easier said than done.

Tuesday, 3rd December 2019, 6:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 3rd December 2019, 11:03 am
Sam Zajac, in action during Saturday's 3-0 loss at former club Telford Tigers. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

Following a pointless weekend which brought defeats to NIHL National leaders Telford Tigers and fellow strugglers Milton Keynes Lightning, the Chiefs’ player-coach was left counting how many bodies he had left standing on the bus home up the M1 on Sunday night.

The situation had been near-critical on Saturday in Shropshire when a Chiefs team regularly short-benched compared to all of their opponents anyway, found themselves further depleted.

Leading goalscorer Adam Barnes was quarantined with tonsilitis, while defenceman Lewis Baldwin was out with an upper-body injury sustained in practice on Wednesday night.

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NOT SURE: Experienced defenceman Steve Duncombe is doubtful for Leeds' Chiefs' clash at Peterborough Phantoms on Saturday night. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

If that were not bad enough, Andres Kopstals was forced to pull out injured during the warm-up before - after just one shift - defenceman Bobby Streetly was ruled out for the night with an upper-body injury.

The 26-year-old Leeds-born blue-liner ended up missing the 4-2 defeat at Milton Keynes and, said Zajac, is expected to be out long-term.

Barnes and Baldwin returned for Sunday, but that positive soon became a negative when experienced defenceman Steve Duncombe then had to pull out with a lower-body injury.

Zajac admitted it was tough going on his players, particuarly on Saturday against a strong Telford side who powered back to the top of the standings as a result of their 3-0 win.

But the Chiefs’ boss also acknowledged that up until last weekend, his team had managed to stay relatively injury-free.

And try as he might throughout the coming days to secure a new signing in time for Saturday’s clash with Peterborough Phantoms, there are several factors working against him.

“It’s tough finding guys at this time of year,” said Zajac. “Teams have got budgets and you can’t just go out and sign any player you like, so finding guys who can come in and make a difference at this level and guys who want to come is not easy.

“And with us not yet playing out of our own rink, it’s not the most attractive proposition coming here. It’s not like there are guys waiting around for phone calls, everyone who is interested in playing at this level have all got teams already.

“The reality is we haven’t got a money tree to throw at these guys, but we started on the way home from Milton Keynes talking to people on the phone so, hopefully, something can come from that.”

In an ideal world, Zajac would add a forward and a D-man but, given the Chiefs are generating hardly any income due to the work still being completed on their Elland Road rink, there is unlikely to be much spare cash - if any - to strengthen the roster.

The versatility of players like Richard Bentham who can play both positions helps in such situations, as does the availability of two-way players such as 18-year-old defenceman Tyler Nixon who featured at both Telford and Milton Keynes.

But Zajac knows adding more depth is key to his team’s playoff hopes, even if only on a short-term basis.

“Ideally we want to bring in guys who want to be here long term to help build something,” added Zajac. “But if it has to be on a short-term basis, then so be it.”