Bench work of Glenn Baldwin allows Leeds Chiefs and Sam Zajac to make progress

THE SUCCESS of any coaching team often relies on there being a mutual respect between those involved.

BIG ASSIST: Glenn Baldwin works the Leeds Chiefs' bench at Elland Road last season during the NIHL National clash against Sheffield Steeldogs. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss.

That certainly proved to be the case at Leeds Chiefs for their debut season in NIHL National.

The fact the Elland Road club finished bottom was an obvious disappointment, but both player-coach Sam Zajac and assistant Glenn Baldwin – his eyes and ears on the bench – could still take satisfaction from their first season of working alongside one another.

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It was factors outside the team’s control – such as having no home rink until the end of January and training only once a week across the Pennines in Blackburn as a result – that were the main factors behind the Chiefs’ struggles.

TEAM WORKS: Leeds Chiefs' player-coach Sam Zajac Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss

But, with those issues now consigned to history, the Chiefs are expecting to be competing on more of a level playing field whenever the sport does resume, with many expecting a significant delay to the start of the 2020-21 campaign because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Baldwin, who has spent the majority of his coaching career at Bradford Bulldogs, jumped at the chance to get involved with the sport’s newest franchise when Zajac made the call to him last summer.

There wasn’t much of a feeling-out process, says Baldwin, from Billingham, with himself and Zajac quickly finding a positive working relationship.

Despite it being Zajac’s first senior coaching role, Baldwin was soon impressed with how the 30-year-old defenceman adapted to his new responsibilities in what proved to be a testing debut season at the helm.

FAMILY AFFAIR: Leeds Chiefs' defenceman, Lewis Baldwin. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

“I’ve coached for a lot of years at various levels, but I was still surprised how well Sam stepped into the role, how much he knew,” said Baldwin, whose son Lewis impressed all year as a key defencemen for the Chiefs. “The role seemed a natural fit for him, at no point did it seem like it was his first season coaching.

“Obviously he is very experienced in terms of playing, but in terms of coaching he wasn’t, yet it just seemed natural for him. He’s an easy-going guy and nothing seemed to faze him, that always helps.

“I only really knew him to say hello to previously, but we just seemed to click very early on. We both wanted the same things on the bench, we both had the same ideas.

“Normally between two coaches you’ll have cross-words here and there, but we never had one all season. It just seemed the perfect fit.”

YOU BEAUTY: Leeds Chiefs' players celebrate Lewis Houston's overtime winner against Telford Tigers at Elland Road - the club's first win on home ice. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss.

The role of player-coach is clearly demanding, particularly on game nights when they are required to be in the thick of it out on the ice. Zajac admits he was grateful to have somebody such as Baldwin as his eyes and ears and it will come as no surprise were the two to work together again next season.

“For me, having the right guy on the bench was essential, one of the key signings that you have to make,” said Zajac.

“It’s easy to miss things when you’re playing, there’s a lot going on, so you rely on that bench coach’s presence heavily and Glenn was huge for us, with his little insights, things he noticed that I’d missed.

“He was a huge help and is a guy who doesn’t mince his words – if he saw something that he wasn’t happy about then he’d be more than happy to let the guys know.

“It’s good to have someone who is happy to make that kind of contribution and we’re happy for him to do it because he’s got a good background in hockey, he’s seen a lot and he’s really knowledgeable.”

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