Why Leeds Knights coach Dave Whistle was so keen to keep Sam Zajac on board
FROM the moment it became clear to Dave Whistle that he was going to be taking over as head coach and GM at Leeds Knights, he was keen to ensure that Sam Zajac remained on board.
At an early stage of Steve Nell’s move to take over the team franchise at Elland Road, due to a change in work commitments back home in his native North East, Zajac had made it known he would not be in a position to throw his hat into the ring as player-coach - a role he had held at Leeds Chiefs since May 2019.
But it wasn’t long before all three men knew they were united in one aim - to ensure that Zajac would at least return as a player.
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It didn’t take many conversations to come to a deal to bring the 31-year-old defenceman back to West Yorkshire for the NIHL National 2021-22 season.
For Whistle, it was key to have someone in place that he could trust and use as a sounding board, particularly during his first few weeks back in England as he builds and prepares his team ready for the new campaign.
Solid recommendations and references on Zajac were not in short supply for Whistle, not just from Nell who had him play for Swindon Wildcats for a short spell in the 2017-18 season, but also his own son Brandon, who thrived for Telford Tigers during their league title-winning campaign in 2019-20.
“I was always hoping Sammy would be coming back,” said Whistle. “I asked Brandon, my son, about Sammy and he told me he was a good player, physical, strong in the corners and such a good team guy.
“Brandon knows what kind of players I like and he’s told me that I’m going to like him. Sam and me have spoken a couple of times and he has been very helpful on a number of things.
“Certainly in those first few weeks, he will be my sounding board. I like having somebody’s opinion who I can trust and I know I will be trusting him.
“With what everyone has said about him - I know I’m going to like him as a player, I know I’m going to like him as a person and I know I’m going to like having him as a team-mate.”
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