Sam Zajac hopeful of filling the gap left at Leeds Chiefs

SAM ZAJAC says he is hopeful of bringing in a new body for Leeds Chiefs – but admits this weekend’s trip to Peterborough Phantoms may come just too soon.

Friday, 4th October 2019, 6:35 am
Updated Saturday, 5th October 2019, 2:37 am
GONE: Chris Sykes, seen in action for Leeds Chiefs against Bracknell Bees last Sunday, returned to Billingham Stars earlier this week. Picture courtesy of Kevin Slyfield.

The Chiefs’ player-coach is dipping into the marketplace perhaps earlier than he expected following the exit of Chris Sykes on Wednesday night, the 27-year-old winger returning to Billingham Stars where he spent the previous five seasons before making the switch to West Yorkshire in the summer.

Work commitments and the issue of travel – particularly given the Chiefs are currently training midweek at Blackburn – are believed to be the main reasons for Sykes wanting to drop down a level to rejoin the North One club.

And Zajac is hoping to tie up a replacement in the coming days, although it is more likely any new face – or faces – won’t be available to play until the NIHL National clash at Essex-based Raiders IHC on October 13.

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Zajac said he was sorry to see Sykes go, but fully understood the Sheffield-born forward’s decision to return to Billingham.

“It is a shame it didn’t work out for Chris,” said Zajac. “When you’re bringing in so many new guys into a set-up like this, it’s not going to be the ideal environment for everyone.

“With all the travel and stuff involved for some guys, it’s probably not going to work out for some people.

“But I appreciate Sykesy’s honesty about the whole thing. I’d rather have him come and tell me it’s not working for him rather than sticking around and taking the money while not being happy with where he is.

TEAM-BUILDING: Leeds Chiefs' player-coach, Sam Zajac. Picture: Steve Brodie

“There are no hard feelings. He’s a great guy and he was a great guy in the locker room.”

Zajac said talks were at an advanced stage with possible replacements, but he may be resigned to travelling to Cambridgeshire a body light.

“By Chris telling us at the start of the week, it gives us a bit more of a chance to get somebody in for the weekend,” said Zajac. “We are speaking to a couple of guys at the minute and we’re pretty confident we’ll have one in, if not by Sunday, then definitely by the week after. We’re quite far down the road with discussions. Whoever we bring in is only going to improve us as a team.”

And while he may be one light on skaters, Zajac is pleased to be able to welcome first-choice netminder Sam Gospel back into the fold, having missed Sunday’s 4-3 defeat at Bracknell Bees after taking a match penalty during the previous evening’s loss at Milton Keynes. There were fears Gospel’s punishment would be upgraded to a total ban of four games by English Ice Hockey Asociation disciplinary bosses, but video evidence submitted as part of an appeal by the Chiefs helped see the 25-year-old’s original penalty downgraded to a two-minute minor for roughing.

BACK IN THE GAME: Leeds Chiefs' goaltender, Sam Gospel will return to the starting line-up to face Peterborough on Sunday. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie.

“The more I looked at the replays, the more I thought there is no way they are going to upgrade that and it was a no-brainer sending the appeal in,” said Zajac. “It’s great that we’ve got him back for the trip to Peterborough.”