Steve Duncombe enjoying ‘fresh start’ with Leeds Chiefs

Leeds Chiefs defenceman Steve Duncombe. 
Picture courtesy of Steve BrodieLeeds Chiefs defenceman Steve Duncombe. 
Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie
Leeds Chiefs defenceman Steve Duncombe. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie | Freelance
AFTER 18 years in the game, defenceman Steve Duncombe was all set to call it a day earlier this summer.

That was until he got the first of a number of calls from newly-appointed Leeds Chiefs’ player-coach Sam Zajac.

The promise of a fresh start, as part of a brand new ice hockey franchise in a major city was too much of an opportunity to turn down.

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Life for the Chiefs in their inaugural campaign as part of the new second-tier NIHL National division may currently be proving tough – five games have produced five defeats – but the 34-year-old has no regrets over postponing his plans to hang up those skates.

Steve Duncombe, centre, enjoys a joke with his future player-coach at Leeds, Sam Zajac, left, during a game between Whitley Warriors and Suttong Stong last season. Picture courtesy of Colin Lawson.Steve Duncombe, centre, enjoys a joke with his future player-coach at Leeds, Sam Zajac, left, during a game between Whitley Warriors and Suttong Stong last season. Picture courtesy of Colin Lawson.
Steve Duncombe, centre, enjoys a joke with his future player-coach at Leeds, Sam Zajac, left, during a game between Whitley Warriors and Suttong Stong last season. Picture courtesy of Colin Lawson. | [email protected]

“I had planned on retiring at the end of last season,” explained Duncombe.

“But when the Leeds thing began to take shape I just saw it as a chance for me to have a fresh start.

“I’d spoken to Sammy a couple of times and, having thought about it, I fancied something new. A new team, an entirely new league and it’s not too far from where I live – everything seemed to fit just right.”

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Having taken his first tentative steps in his senior career with the Sheffield Steelers – for who he made more than 100 appearances between 2001-06 – Duncombe eventually settled with his home city’s other team, the Scimitars in the second-tier English Premier League.

Steve Duncombe (second left) tries to block a Peterborough Phantoms shot during Sunday's 4-2 defeat Picture: David LowndesSteve Duncombe (second left) tries to block a Peterborough Phantoms shot during Sunday's 4-2 defeat Picture: David Lowndes
Steve Duncombe (second left) tries to block a Peterborough Phantoms shot during Sunday's 4-2 defeat Picture: David Lowndes | JPI Media Ltd Resell

Sticking with the semi-professional outfit as they went on to become the Sheffield Steeldogs, Duncombe would remain there – save for a short spell in Peterborough – until 2016, when he dropped down a level to join Blackburn Hawks.

But he soon found himself thrust into the role of player-coach at Lower Audley Street, something he grasped with both hands although, less than a year later, Blackburn and other third-tier teams found themselves thrust together with the likes of the Steeldogs and Hull Pirates after the demise of the EPL forced English Ice Hockey Association bosses into putting together a new, makeshift second tier.

Duncombe himself would be replaced mid-season after a combination of illness and bad results prompted Hawks bosses to make a change, the Yorkshireman returning closer to home to finish the season with Sutton Sting.

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And despite his latest move having yet failed to yield any wins for himself and his team-mates, Duncombe is confident it is only a matter of time before that situation changes.

“Every game – apart from perhaps Milton Keynes – we have been there or thereabouts,” he added. “We believe we’ve got a good team and a good room.

“Everybody is sticking together and we’re confident that it won’t be that long before we pick up that first win.

“I have played on other teams that have gone through losing streaks and the locker room starts to fragment.

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“Everybody gets frustrated when things aren’t going your way and people start to lash out at each other, including the players that are closest to them as well.

“But I don’t get a sense of that here. Yes, it is frustrating at the moment, but the players we have on board here are a mature group – they realise that if we start having a go at each other it will only make matters worse.

“All it does is create a bad atmosphere in the room and I’m glad it has not happened here.”