The Leeds Knights and Sheffield Steeldogs players reunited with fans for NIHL Playoff Finals Weekend

LEEDS KNIGHTS forward Joe Coulter readily admits he feels fortunate to have been able to play some kind of competitive hockey in recent months.

Saturday, 5th June 2021, 7:05 am
BRING IT ON: Joe Coulter is keen to play in front of fans again at Ice Sheffield. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Last week saw the 25-year-old Scottish-born centre signed up to play a second season in West Yorkshire, following on from his debut season in England with Leeds Chiefs in 2019-20.

The coronavirus pandemic robbed Coulter and the Chiefs of a second successive NIHL National campaign.

The hockey landscape in Leeds has changed significantly in the intervening months.

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Kieran Brown has been able to gain valuable ice time with Widnes Wild. Picture courtesy of Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.

Gone are the Chiefs, replaced by the Knights, the name chosen by new team owner Steve Nell, who brokered the deal to ensure Coulter remained part of the Elland Road-based club.

With former Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils boss Dave Whistle also on board as the Knights’ new head coach and GM, there are grounds for optimism ahead of what is hoped to be a September start for NIHL National teams.

But, despite the lack of second-tier hockey, Coulter hasn’t been idle.

Earlier this year, he was able to get a roster spot at NIHL North Two outfit Widnes Wild in time for the behind-closed-doors NIHL North Cup, where they faced off against Blackburn Hawks, Sheffield Scimitars and Nottingham Lions

Defenceman Bobby Streetly has iced for Widnes Wild in the Three Rivers Cup. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

A few weeks later, the Three Rivers Cup followed - again, played behind closed doors - this time with just the Wild, Scimitars and Lions taking part.

But, today at Ice Sheffield, the Wild are one of four teams who will form an important part of a significant step forward for the sport in the UK when they play in front of fans for the first time since lockdown came into effect last March.

The Covid-secure event means a maximum of 500 fans will be allowed into the building where they can watch today’s semi-finals and tomorrow’s final.

Widnes take to the ice in the second semi-final against Slough Jets, after Sheffield have taken on MK Thunder.

Ben Morgan has played with Sheffield Scimitars in the Three Rivers Cup and will play in front of fans again at Ice Sheffield this weekend. Picture courtesy of Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.

Not surprisingly, Coulter, who will be playing alongside fellow Knights signings Lewis Baldwin and Kieran Brown, as well as former Chiefs’ team-mates Bobby Streetly and Harrison Walker and 2020-21 Leeds signing Jordan Griffin, is keen to experience playing in front of fans again.

“There are so many guys over the past year or so that haven’t been able to get any ice time, I do feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity to keep the rust off,” said Wild captain Coulter.

“With fans being in the building in Sheffield this weekend, I think you are going to see a different game from all four teams. Players will just naturally raise their game with fans being in, we’ll want to put on a show because people have paid good money to come and watch us.

“To be able to do that for the first time in months, it will be great to be a part of it. It’s going to be remarkable.”

Having played in both the Streaming Series and the Spring Cup with Sheffield Steeldogs, defenceman Ben Morgan was glad to be offered the chance to continue playing with the Scimitars in the Three Rivers Cup.

Joined on the roster by Steeldogs’ captain and fellow defenceman Lewis Bell, along with teenager forwards Jack Brammer and Nathan Ripley, he too welcomed the return of fans.

“It’s been good, after the end of the Spring Cup, to keep my legs moving,” said Morgan. “It helps in that respect and it has been of a good standard because every team involved has strengthened.

“It’s a big step for everyone involved playing in front of fans. It’s fantastic to get them back in watching live games again. To get some sort of normality back is going to be great, it will add a little bit of extra drama to the games this weekend.”

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