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Leeds Chiefs - what to expect

Tomorrow sees the Bradfield Brewery Sheffield Steeldogs play the opening fixture of the new NIHL National Division. The Leeds Chiefs are our visitors and our resident stats man Adam Robinson gives us a guide as to what to expect from them.

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So how do you preview a game against a team that literally didn’t exist until a few months ago, and have yet to play a single game in any form.

Well, actually it turns out that whilst Leeds are a completely unknown proposition as a team, as individuals many of them are familiar faces. Some even members of Dogs’ teams past.

In goal Leeds have announced the trio of Sam Gospel, Miles Finney and Harrison Walker.

Gospel, on a two-way with Nottingham Panthers, has played for Telford and Lions in recent seasons and is a highly regarded goalie who is still young despite being around for seemingly a long time. Finney returned to the ice for the first time in around a decade having spent many years playing roller hockey to international standard and pretty much stood on his head for Nottingham Lions, facing more rubber than a balloon factory. Walker is still a teenager but ended up as Blackburn’s #1 goalie last year with a string of impressive performances, including against Steeldogs in the first playoff round. I suspect Gospel will get the nod against the Dogs, but with a better defence in front then any one of them could get the nod and do well.

Their D has a familiar feel to it too. Tyler Nixon, on a two-way with Sutton, played for Sheffield Academy and Senators last year as both “D” and centre, as well as a few games for the Sting mid-season as a D. Steve Duncombe also joins from Sutton, where he finished last season after a few as player-coach at Blackburn. Vastly experienced, Duncs spent several years as the backbone of the Steeldogs’ D. A physical player, with a huge shot and an unmistakable skating stride. The Blackburn connection continues with Leeds-born Bobby Streetly, who has spent the majority of his time playing for the Hawks but now gets the chance to ice for his hometown team. And Lewis Baldwin joins from Solway, but has previously iced for the Steeldogs and Hawks in the NIHL and Manchester in the EPL.

Luke Boothroyd also iced for Blackburn over the last two seasons, but will largely be familiar to Dogs fans for his many years with Manchester Phoenix. Lastly, but by no means least, player-coach Sam Zajac is another experienced head at the back-end. Having played for Telford, Swindon and his hometown Whitley Bay, Zajac makes his first move into coaching. A speedy D who can also put up a ton of points, his skating ability has been recognised for many years and he shows the quality of a man who played in the Elite League for four years.

Their forwards follow a similar theme, with many joining from local clubs or Solway. Former Sheffield Scimitar James Archer is adding to his collection of rival teams having played for Hull and Manchester previously. A proven second-line scorer, Archer is well-known to Dogs players and always a threat. Andy Hirst, should need very little introduction given his 300+ games in Dogs’ jerseys over the years. Chris Sykes joins from Billingham where he was perennially one of their top scorers and “go to” British players. He previously has played for Hull (Stingrays), Sutton and indeed Sheffield.

Ethan Hehir similarly joins from the Stars, the older of the two brothers that played in Billingham. At 18 years old he is definitely one for the future but as one of the higher scorers for Stars last year it is also clear that he can deliver now too. Steven Moore, Joe Coulter and Richie Bentham all join from Solway Sharks. Bentham has previously played for Blackburn and Manchester too, whereas for the other two this marks the first time playing league hockey for someone other than the Sharks. All three have been key components of a very handy Sharks team in recent years providing speed and scoring.

And finally, their imports. Radek Meidl played for MKL in the EIHL last year and was productive, but perhaps not outstanding. However, his resume is fairly impressive; stints in Major Junior in Canada and some higher eastern European leagues put him in the same bracket as many high-end imports in the NIHL. His older brother is also familiar(ish) to these shores with a stint in Manchester for the Phoenix a few years ago. Announced on Tuesday was Andres Kopstals. I know literally nothing about this young man, signed direct from Canadian university; I had to look him up on EliteProspects just to spell his name correct (if you’re reading this, sorry!). In his 5 seasons he has played with some familiar names; Manchester Storm have signed a couple of guys for this season direct from the same team, Dundee signed one too. Steelers signed McFadden last season from him team too. It seems to me that he tends to come in the middle of the roster for scoring – so a 2nd/3rd line guy for Guelph – but that the top scorers tend to be targeted by the EIHL teams. If that is his role in Leeds, he could be a canny addition to their roster.

How they will all mesh on the ice together will remain to be seen. I wonder if playing them at the start of the season is perfect for the Dogs, as they will still be implementing their systems and getting used to special teams etc. However, I also know that all Leeds’ goalies can steal a game and many of their players have experience in giving the Steeldogs’ trouble, so do not think it is anything close to a foregone conclusion. Plus, many will be very familiar with the Steeldogs, which the same cannot be said in reverse.

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Roger Williams

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