Leeds Knights: Why GB and Sheffield Steelers captain Jonathan Phillips backs coach Dave Whistle to succeed at Elland Road

GREAT BRITAIN captain Jonathan Phillips has backed coach Dave Whistle to bring success to Leeds Knights when the puck drops for the 2021-22 NIHL National season.

Jonathan Phillips, in action for GB againsT Sweden at this year's World Championships in Riga. Picture: Dean Woolley.
Jonathan Phillips, in action for GB againsT Sweden at this year's World Championships in Riga. Picture: Dean Woolley.

The Knights’ head coach and GM is due to arrive in Leeds before the end of the month where he will continue piecing together his roster ahead of his first campaign behind a senior bench since a second stint at Cardiff Devils in 2014.

It is an exciting time for the club who, under new owner Steve Nell, have been transformed over the last three months.

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Nine players have already been signed by the management, with more names to be revealed in the coming weeks.

Dave Whistle, on the Cardiff Devils bench during the 2013-14 EIHL season. Picture courtesy of Richard Murray.

But it is the appointment of Whistle – who led Belfast Giants and Bracknell Bees to Superleague titles during his early time as a coach 20 years ago – that Phillips believes may prove most key for the club.

Phillips, who is about to embark on his 16th season with the Elite League’s Sheffield Steelers has first-hand experience of how Whistle operates, having played under him during the Canadian’s first stint as coach at Cardiff between 2004-06.

Whistle left part-way through the 2005-06 season to take over as head coach at the Steelers and persuaded Phillips and Dave Matsos to follow him the following summer.

But Whistle never returned to South Yorkshire having decided to take a job back home in Canada, with Matsos eventually handed the reins instead.

Sheffield Steelers' captain Jonathan Phillips enjoyed his time playing for Dave Whistle at Cardiff Devils. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

“He was unbelievable to play for” said Phillips of Whistle. “He was the ultimate players’ coach and, as a player, you really did want to play your best for him.

“When he came into Cardiff, it was a big thing because he was a big name, having won with Belfast and Bracknell.

“He was a joy to play for, he always knew how to pick the team back up – some of my best memories ever, are playing for Whis’.

“He was a large part of why I came to Sheffield all those years ago, I thought I was going up to play for a coach who I greatly admired. I was gutted when I heard he wasn’t coming back.”

Phillips and Whistle will no doubt be meeting up once the 55-year-old is settled in Leeds and with now only 30 minutes of motorway separating them as opposed to thousands of miles.

And the 38-year-old Steelers’ forward expects to be talking about how well Leeds are doing under his former boss.

“It’s a great move for Leeds,” said Phillips. “He’s the perfect coach to show the younger guys on that team what it takes to be a professional, to make that next step.

“He will show younger players the sacrifices they have to make to make the grade.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how things go for him once he gets over here.”