Hull Pirates and Leeds Chiefs make big changes before derby clash as Sheffield Steeldogs take on NIHL National form team

NEW FACE: Patrik Valcak is the new import signing for Leeds Chiefs. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.
NEW FACE: Patrik Valcak is the new import signing for Leeds Chiefs. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.
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HULL PIRATES and Leeds Chiefs will meet for a fourth time this season on Sunday having made significant changes to their rosters in the past 24 hours - prompting something of a reunion between their new arrivals.

Leeds announced the arrival of Czech Republic forward Patrik Valcak on Friday afternoon, while 18 hours or so later, the Pirates revealed their new addition in the shape of Matt Bissonnette, a former team-mate of Valcak's at Manchester Storm.

Hull, who host the Chiefs for a third time this season on Sunday (5.30pm), jettisoned import forward Fabus earlier this week, with Bissonnette jumping on board in time to make Saturday's trip down to Basingstoke Bison.

Bissonnette, who played alongside Valcak at Manchester during the 2016-17 season and last year posted 29 points including nine goals, for Dundee Stars, said on an interview on the club's YouTube channel: "I've been waiting for a chance and this is my chance.

"Last year (at Dundee) was an off year for me, I was injured and it was frustrating. But I just want to help this team win and get climbing that table. I see the ice very well, that is one of my strengths and I'm a big guy and pretty hard to get the puck off."

An additional bonus for Hull is the return of playmaker Matty Davies, out for the past three months through injury. Player-coach Hewitt - still missing Lee Haywood and Josh Gent - said Davies's return could not come soon enough.

HELLO THERE: Matt Bissonnette, pictured in action for Dundee Stars in the EIHL last year, has joined Hull Pirates in time to face former Mancester team-mate Patrik Valcak in Hull on Sunday. Picture: Derek Black/EIHL.

HELLO THERE: Matt Bissonnette, pictured in action for Dundee Stars in the EIHL last year, has joined Hull Pirates in time to face former Mancester team-mate Patrik Valcak in Hull on Sunday. Picture: Derek Black/EIHL.

"We do need him, he's a massive player for us," said Hewitt. "His career speaks for itself and it has been a massive gap in our line-up. It will be nice to be able to run three lines for a change."

While there is excitement in the Leeds ranks about the arrival of Valcak, it was tempered by the departure of fellow forward Ashley Calvert on the same day, the 28-year-old unable to fully commit for the remainder of the season due to increased work commitments.

Valcak's arrival sees the Chiefs finally replace import forward Radek Meidl, although with Ethan Hehir still away on international duty with Great Britain Under-20s and Calvert's exit, they remain short on bodies.

On the back end, veteran defenceman Steve Duncombe is expected to step up his minutes after coming through last weekend’s games unscathed, helping free up the versatile Richard Bentham to play more shifts as a forward.

Jason Hewitt, in action during the 6-2 win over Leeds in early November. Picture courtesy of Lois Tomlinson.

Jason Hewitt, in action during the 6-2 win over Leeds in early November. Picture courtesy of Lois Tomlinson.

“We’ve matched up okay against Hull, took them to overtime, had a late loss against them in Blackburn and then we have that one blowout game at theirs where we were not at our best,” said Chiefs' player-coach Sam Zajac. “So we feel like we owe Hull one because we’ve ran them close a couple of times and not quite got over the line.

“Matty Davies will be making his long-awaited return it seems, so I’m sure he’ll be desperate to get back into it having missed a big chunk of the season.

“He’s a big player for them, fantastic offensively and very tough to defend against so we’re going to have to come up with a plan to stifle him because I know he’ll be hungry to get among the points given the amount of time he’s been out.”

Elsewhere, Sheffield Steeldogs take on the form team in NIHL National in a double-header against Milton Keynes Lightning.

IMPRESSIVE: Teenage forward Nathan Ripley has impressed since stepping up to fill gaps left by injury on the Sheffield Steeldogs roster. Picture courtesy of Steeldogs' Facebook page.

IMPRESSIVE: Teenage forward Nathan Ripley has impressed since stepping up to fill gaps left by injury on the Sheffield Steeldogs roster. Picture courtesy of Steeldogs' Facebook page.

Lewis Clifford’s team have won eight of their last nine games - including twice against the Steeldogs, over who they have leapt into sixth place in the standings.

Ben Morgan’s team - buoyed by last Sunday's 4-2 home win over Basingstoke - hit the road down to Buckinghamshire tonight before playing host tomorrow (4.30pm). They have also added to their roster with the formal signing of teenage forward Nathan Ripley, who has impressed in the performances he has already made this season.

"Right from hius first game down in Basingstoke he put in some really good shifts," said Morgan. "He got maybe eight or nine shifts that night and ever since has shown his qualities. He's made a real impact, taken his opportunity and hopefully can continue to grow within the team.

"Like most younger guys, Nathan has kept his head down. He's relatively quiet in the room but he listens to feedback and works to improve shift by shift.

"He's got a lot to offer and has already shown a real ability for creating turnovers and hounding defenceman down. He's got real tenacity, plays all over the ice and he skates fantastically well."