WATCH - Leeds Chiefs left with empty feeling after suffering double dip
AFTER the highs, come the lows - just ask Leeds Chiefs.
A week after celebrating their first-ever four-point weekend, an achievement which lifted them off the foot of the NIHL National table, Sam Zajac’s side were experiencing the other side of the coin, following up a 5-3 defeat at second-placed Telford Tigers with a more disappointing 6-3 defeat in their ‘home’ opener to Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Steeldogs.
That ‘home’ opener, in reality, was as far removed from such a landmark occasion as it could possibly have been - staged almost 60 miles away across the Pennines at Blackburn Ice Arena. It was still a Yorkshire derby, it just happened to be in Lancashire.
Clearly, the sooner Leeds can start playing out of their Elland Road rink the better, although that won't be until December at the earliest with the three remaining November home fixtures also scheduled for alternative venues.
Next week sees the Chiefs host leaders Swindon Wildcats at Widnes before returning to Blackburn the two following weekends to welcome the Steeldogs again and Hull Pirates.
After that Milton Keynes Lightning are the visitors on Sunday, December 1, with Peterborough Phantoms due the following Saturday. No announcement has yet been made as to where those fixtures will be played.
About 250 people headed west along the M62 and A56 to cheer on the home team - a sprinkling of Steeldogs’ fans among them having made the slightly longer trip from South Yorkshire - but it was to be a disappointing night for the ‘hosts’.
Player-coach Zajac admitted afterwards that his team got exactly what they deserved having failed to match the compete level of a slightly desperate Steeldogs team who were looking to end a mini-slump of four defeats, one of which had come at the hands of the Chiefs in Sheffield 10 days previously.
“That’s the nature of the league we’re in, you couldn’t get more different to last weekend when we won back-to-back games,” said Zajac.
“I liked our game in Telford, liked how we played and we were maybe a little unfortunate with some of the calls. We battled right until the end but then, against Sheffield, it was just the complete opposite.
“We had a few too many passengers, we didn’t match their work-rate, we didn’t match the compete level that they brought.
“And that is frustrating because I don’t think we’re that far off that team to be fair - but we need everybody to be going full-on in order to match them and we didn’t quite have that.”
The Chiefs - with Miles Finney deputising for the injured Sam Gospel in goal - couldn’t have got off to a worse start, falling behind at 2.42 to a strike from Cam Brownley, although that was soon cancelled out by import forward Andres Kopstals.
Again Ben Morgan’s team got their noses in front, this time from Jan Danecek at 17.49 and although the Chiefs got themselves level again early in the second when Brodie Jesson - added as emergency cover ahead for the weekend - pounced, that was the last time they would enjoy parity.
Sheffield went ahead for a third time through Nathan Salem at 30.24, with the same player doubling his tally on the power play shortly before the end of the period.
The Chiefs enjoyed more puck possession in the third but couldn’t find a way past a resolute Steeldogs, who killed the game off with two goals in 74 seconds, James Spurr’s strike at 52.19 followed by a second effort from the impressive Danecek.
At Telford the previous evening, the Chiefs found themselves 3-2 ahead at the end of the first period, Andre Kopstals continuing his rich vein of goalscoring form with a power play strike in the 12th minute to cancel out Dominik Florian's fifth-minute opener.
Daniel Mitchell restored the home team's lead within 60 seconds, but Radek Meidl's seventh of the season at 14.22 was followed just 22 seconds later by Steven Moore's third.
Thomas McKinnon quickly restored parity early in the second, but that was how it stayed until, with just under three minutes remaining and with the Chiefs' Luke Boothroyd and James Archer in the penalty box, Telford's Scott McKenzie scored what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Andrew McKinney then ensured there was to be no comeback when he made it 5-3 with just 95 seconds left on the clock.