Leeds Knights and the 'unfinished business' that brought Matt Barron back for 2024-25 NIHL National season

HAVING retained the NIHL National league title, there can be no suggestion that Leeds Knights’ 2023-24 campaign was anything but a success.

But for import forward Matt Barron, the agony of losing the subsequent play-off final on penalties to Peterborough Phantoms means he returns next season with ‘unfinished business’.

Barron’s return for a second season abroad was confirmed last week, much to the delight of Knights’ team-mates and supporters alike.

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It followed a first season playing abroad professionally for Barron, having spent the previous year largely in the ECHL with Trois-Rivières Lions.

WINNING MENTALITY: Import forward Matt Barron believes Leeds Knights will be in the running for honours again when the 2024-25 NIHL National season gets underway in September. Picture: Tony Johnson.WINNING MENTALITY: Import forward Matt Barron believes Leeds Knights will be in the running for honours again when the 2024-25 NIHL National season gets underway in September. Picture: Tony Johnson.
WINNING MENTALITY: Import forward Matt Barron believes Leeds Knights will be in the running for honours again when the 2024-25 NIHL National season gets underway in September. Picture: Tony Johnson.

His time in West Yorkshire was something he revelled in, winning friends and fans both on and off the ice as he posted 39 goals and 46 assists in 64 appearances.

The expectation on the Knights to emulate the previous year’s league title triumph was comfortably met - with four games to spare.

But falling short at Coventry’s SkyDome Arena on April 28 left a sour taste for Barron and his team-mates, somewhat taking the shine off their post-season downtime.

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So far, head coach Ryan Aldridge has brought back 11 of last season’s roster with a second import being added in the shape of former Sheffield Steeldogs’ forward, Matt Bissonnette.

POPULAR: Matt Barron applauds the Leeds Knights fans who quickly came to adore him early on in his first season with the team. Picture: Ben Gordon/Knights Media.POPULAR: Matt Barron applauds the Leeds Knights fans who quickly came to adore him early on in his first season with the team. Picture: Ben Gordon/Knights Media.
POPULAR: Matt Barron applauds the Leeds Knights fans who quickly came to adore him early on in his first season with the team. Picture: Ben Gordon/Knights Media.

It remains to be seen whether Barron’s fellow Canadian, defenceman Noah McMullin, also returns, but the 25-year-old centre is confident that however the Knights’ roster lines up in 2024-25, they will again be among the leading contenders for honours.

“It’s been touched on before about how we’re a pretty young group, but with the guys that we have and what they all bring to the team, it is not unreasonable to think we can do something similar to what we were able to do last year - maybe even more,” said Barron.

“Heading into the play-offs having won the league, it was our goal to win those, too. Obviously we didn’t, so, for me, it feels a bit like unfinished business, I guess.

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“It is definitely part of the reason for me coming back - to reclaim the league, but also add those two other trophies.

“If you want to improve every year - and I know it doesn’t always work out like that - for us, and the roster we have, the main goal is obviously to reclaim the league again.

“That will be tougher than it was last year - but we want to get it done, while also giving ourselves a good chance with the other two trophies.

“Nobody likes it when the same team wins every year, so we know the target will be on our backs again but, again, we’ve got to embrace that pressure.”

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While back home in Nova Scotia for the off-season - where he and McMullin won league and play-off titles with the Yarmouth Mariners in 2018-19 - Barron is helping out with hockey camps and off-ice training with up-and-coming youngsters.

But he is also counting down the days until his return to West Yorkshire in late August - his decision to return for a second season not something he had to think too long about.

“There was never any doubt, it was what I wanted to do from the beginning,” added Barron. “I think Ryan had the same feeling, so it was pretty easy to come to an agreement.

“It would be tough to find something I didn’t like about being at Leeds. The fans were great to me, the same with the coaching staff, the players and Leeds is such a good area to live.

“Everything just kind of aligned and it just made total sense to come back for another year.”