The Knights pushed Swindon Wildcats all the way over two pulsating, keenly-fought encounters but ultimately came up short after a 5-4 loss at home in the second leg saw Aaron Nell’s team prevail 8-6 on aggregate.
At one point it looked like Leeds were on their way to lifting their first-ever piece of silverware when a piece of individual brilliance from Kieran Brown put them 5-4 ahead overall midway through the second period.
But two power play goals inside the first 73 seconds of the third saw momentum switch back to Swindon, who never let their lead slip again, despite the Knights’ relentless probing in the closing minutes.
“It was basically a 4-4 game, which is a good score against that team - I’m proud of the players, they worked as hard as they could,” said Whistle. “Swindon have a good team, they really do - a well-rounded team that plays smart and plays the right way.
“And when you’re playing the right way, you’re getting more chances and you get more breaks because you earn them.
“And we’re going to have to learn that and that’s what I told the guys after the game - that when there is a trophy on offer you want to win it. And if you don’t win it, it has got to hurt a little bit, it should be hurting a little bit inside.
“It takes feeling that kind of pain to not want to go through that kind of pain again.
“I was involved in a bunch of those kinds of games in the past and the ones you win, you remember them forever. The ones you lose, you don’t want to remember them after half an hour.
Whistle admitted his team struggled to recover from Swindon’s power play goals at the start of the third.
“The 5-on-3 killed us,” he added. “They scored two goals in less than a minute, probably about 45 seconds and that really put us on our heels
“But, you know what? Our guys battled hard right to the end. In the last couple of minutes when we pulled the goalie we had some scoring chances, but they just didn’t go in, their goalie played well, their team played well but then so did we.”
Having gone ahead overall in the tie for the first time through Brown’s second goal, Whistle believed his team had other opportunities to capitalise on a middle period they largely dominated.
“I felt we could perhaps have had another couple of goals during that time and if we had scored a couple more, we would probably have put it out of reach for them,” he added.
“When we scored our third goal, I looked over and they looked a bit down but they came out flying in that third period.”
Despite the killer blow of the Wildcats’ double-strike early in the third and then going two behind following Tomasz Malasinski’s controversial 47th-minute penalty shot, the Knights’ ability to hit back quickly within a minute through Matty Davies gave Whistle the belief his team could get their noses in front again.
Ultimately, though, despite being virtually camped in the Swindon zone for the last few minutes, they couldn’t quite get over the line.
“I honestly felt we were going to score another goal as there was still over 10 minutes left,” said Whistle. “I felt that about the sixth-minute mark we probably should have had another goal in that time-frame, we had enough scoring chances, enough good chances too.
“But their goalie made good saves when he needed to tonight and he has been one of the best goalies in this league for a while. He did his job really well and that helped them win it.”