The visitors to the Link Centre tonight are the Leeds Knights, they are entering their second season as a club and things have changed up quite a bit for the Knights. They are under new ownership, the Wildcats own Steve Nell has taken up the opportunity, and they’ve had a rebrand with a new name and logo as well, the Chiefs name only lasted a single season.
This is the second time we will have seen the Knights in Swindon, they were the Cats first pre-season opponents and for the pair of games it earned the Wildcats their first two wins of the 21-22 season.
Going into this season the Knights have themselves a new coach and it is a name that will be familiar to many who have been around the British ice hockey scene over the years, Dave Whistle takes charge of Leeds. This will be his first coaching job in the UK since a brief stint in charge of the Cardiff Devils in the 2013-14 season.
In goal the Knights have gone with the netminder who played for them during the 19-20 season, Sam Gospel returns and he will be a very strong number one goalie for the Knights, he has always posted strong numbers and I’m sure that will continue.
On the blueline the one key returnee is the former coach and Wildcat, Sam Zajac, over the years Zajac has consistently been one of the best defenceman in the league and his experience and ability will be of huge benefit to the Knights and their young D core. The other senior defenceman joining Zajac is Bobby Streetly who is returning to Leeds, he primarily played his hockey in Blackburn previously and at the level below the NIHL National so this step up will be a good test of his abilities.
To compliment the two senior d-men above the Knights have also signed; Lewis Baldwin, Jordan Griffin, Archie Hazeldine, Ross Kennedy and Ben Solder, the oldest of those being just 23 years old. With such a young group of defencemen they will certainly have youth and energy on their side but this is cautioned with a lack of experience that could cost them when it really matters.
In the forward ranks the Knights have made some truly superb signings, they have benefitted from the problems surrounding Hull’s rink which means they are having to miss the 21-22 season. The biggest benefit being the signing of former GB international Matty Davies, no matter where he has played Davies has always put up points and always been a key player on his teams, this is illustrated by the number of years he has worn the C on his jersey.
Joining Davies are 3 extremely good and extremely promising forwards in the form of Brandon Whistle, Cole Shudra and Kieran Brown. They have signed from Telford, Sheffield Steelers and the Sheffield Steeldogs respectively. Whistle and Brown have both scored serious points at this level and Shudra brings with him lots of Elite league experience for someone so young.
The roster assembled for the new look Leeds Knights will be exciting and entertaining to watch, they have some great young talents and an experienced coach, nobody will be able to take them lightly or they will end up on the wrong side of a loss.