Swindon Wildcats v Leeds Knights: Willingness to put in the hard yards impresses coach Dave Whistle

TRUTH BE told, every coach loves having one or more match-winners in their team – the kind of go-to-guy who can be relied upon to provide that little bit of magic that can swing games at those vital moments.

Friday, 24th September 2021, 9:19 am
HARD WORKING: Jordan Fisher has impressed Leeds Knights coach Dave Whistle so far. Picture: Andy Bourke

Leeds Knights’ head coach Dave Whistle is no different in that respect and believes he possesses a number of players on his current roster who will no doubt during the course of this season, provide their share of ‘highlight reel’ moments.

But, as much as Whistle likes having those game-changers on his bench, he also values having his unsung heroes around him, the kind of players who perhaps rarely make the headlines, but who just go about their job quietly and efficiently.

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Ethan Hehir has quickly developed a good understanding with Leeds Knights' team-mates Jordan Fisher and Joe Coulter Picture: Andy Bourke

In the shape of Jordan Fisher, Ethan Hehir and Joe Coulter, Whistle believes he has a third line combination that he can guarantee will turn up every night to perform that vital, low-key role.

Their collective effort may not bring them the kind of points haul that team-mates more often found on the top two forward lines will be able to boast of come April, but that does not mean Whistle values their contribution any less.

“Every time they are on the ice, something happens,” said Whistle. “They are always cycling the puck down low, they’ve created power plays for us because they are moving all the time and that’s when opponents have to hook you or trip you.

“As a team we don’t need a lot of offence out of them, but they’re so good when they have the puck because they are willing to chip it in, go get it, cycle it, take a hit to make a play and they keep the puck in the offensive zone quite a bit. They don’t lose the puck at either blue line very much and they haven’t given up hardly any scoring chances when they are on the ice.

IMPRESSIVE: Leeds Knights' third line centre Joe Coulter Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft

“So, I’ve been really impressed with those three. They have done a really good job for us – just a good bunch of very hard-working players.”

Leeds Knights' coach Dave Whistle. Picture: Andy Bourke.

Tonight sees Whistle’s players make the long, tedious journey south to Wiltshire to take on Swindon Wildcats.

The two already know each other quite well, having played back-to-back pre-season games, both being settled by the odd goal in favour of Aaron Nell’s team.

Whistle learned plenty over the course of a hectic 48 hours a fortnight ago and, in practice this week, has made it clear the main priority for his players is to cut down on the number of opposition scoring chances.

Even in last week’s 7-1 win over Bees IHC in their NIHL Autumn Cup opener at Elland Road, goaltender Sam Gospel still faced 48 shots. It is a recurring source of frustration for the Knights’ boss.

“Swindon have plenty of quality and you can see they are a good team with some exciting forwards,” added Whistle.

“So we’re going to have to watch the transition and make sure we don’t want to give up any odd-numbered rushes. I don’t want to see any 2-on-1s unless a guy falls over by accident.

“That’s one of our goals this weekend, we’ve gone over it this week in practice, so if Swindon are going to beat us they are going to have to earn it.

“Over the two nights that we played them, I felt we handled ourselves pretty well.

“I felt we did way better in Leeds and created a lot more offence for ourselves.

“In Swindon they had the puck way more than we did and we were chasing the game at times. Our offence will look after itself, but we’ve got to continue to really strive on getting better defensively – as a team –and not give up as many scoring chances as we have been.”