Sheffield Steeldogs 1 Leeds Knights 3: Lewis Baldwin double gives Knights half-time Autumn Cup advantage

LEEDS KNIGHTS snapped a five-game losing streak and gave themselves a two-goal advantage at the halfway point of their Autumn Cup semi-final with Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Steeldogs.

By Phil Harrison
Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 10:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th November 2021, 7:19 am
Leeds Knights' Brandon Whistle battles for the puck at a face-off with Sheffield Steeldogs' Sam Towner. Picture courtesy of Peter Best.
Leeds Knights' Brandon Whistle battles for the puck at a face-off with Sheffield Steeldogs' Sam Towner. Picture courtesy of Peter Best.

Knights’ head coach Dave Whistle had spoken before the game about his team adopting a more defensive approach and finding some secondary scoring. He got both.

Defenceman Lewis Baldwin, thrust into an unaccustomed forward role scored twice, assisted on both by Manchester Storm forward Harry Gulliver, who capped a man-of-the-match performance with a late power play strike.

But this tie is far from over, with the Steeldogs no doubt keen to set the record straight when they head to Leeds for Friday night’s second leg.

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Sheffield Steeldogs' James Spurr takes a tumble as Leeds Knights' captain Sam Zajac battles on the boards with Jason Hewitt. Picture courtesy of Peter Best.

While Gulliver and Baldwin stole the show at one end, netminder Jordan McLaughlin was equally impressive at the other – the two-way signing from the Elite League’s Glasgow Clan being the team’s fourth different goalie in their last five games since the injury sustained by first-choice Sam Gospel and ending the night having turned away 39 of 40 shots on his goal.

Defenceman Ross Kennedy was still out for Leeds after failing to recover from an injury which also kept him out of Sunday’s defeat at Telford Tigers, while centres Philip Edgar and Matty Davies also remained sidelined, with Lewis Houston having left the club to return home to Scotland because of family and work commitments. It meant Whistle had just 12 skaters to play with. For the Steeldogs, Alex Graham returned after a short spell out injured, but they were missing experienced defenceman Tim Smith,

Chances were limited at both ends in the opening exchanges and it was from an unlikely source that the opening goal came at 9.52 when Baldwin, gathering a loose puck just inside the Steeldogs’ zone, fired a speculative effort towards net which squeezed under a partially-unsighted Dmitri Zimozdra’a pads.

Lee Bonner missed a chance to level when left free at the back post on the power play, while Jason Hewitt tried a wraparound only to be denied by McLaughlin’s outstretched right pad.

Sheffield Steeldogs' Jason Hewitt celebrates his equaliser towards the end of the second period at Ice Sheffield. Picture courtesy of Peter Best.

Early in the second, Brandon Whistle went close to doubling the Knights’ lead before Hewitt looked certain to score for the hosts only to be denied at point-blank range by McLaughlin.

After enjoying a spell of pressure in the Knights’ zone, the hosts eventually drew level at 37.08 through Hewitt, James Spurr working well behind the net before by-passing Sam Zajac with his near-perfect lay-off for the former GB international to fire through McLaughlin.

It was the Knights who came out the stronger in the third, however, quickly restoring their lead when Baldwin worked well with Gulliver to create a 2-on-1 before firing home at 42.29.

Gulliver, Adam Barnes and Whistle all went close to making it 3-1, while McLaughlin stood tall to deny James Spurr and Alex Graham.

Leeds Knights' Lewis Baldwin. Picture: James Hardisty

A late hooking call on Graham eased the pressure on the Knights even further and they were to make their man advantage count when Gulliver showed neat hands to backhand the puck home with 58 seconds left on the clock.

Afterwards, Steeldogs’ Smith, who watched from the sidelines, admitted the defeat was a tough one to take.

“It was just a frustrating game, we were at home and expected to win,” said Smith. “We’ve just got to shift our focus on to the return leg in Leeds on Friday - it’s a difficult one to take.

“We could have been better in certain areas tonight and we probably got outworked which is not something that should happen in your own rink and it fell short of the standards we expect here.

“We’ve got the talent in the dressing room and in terms of our depth, so we just need to make sure we come together on Friday, overturn that two-goal deficit and make sure we’re in that cup final.”