Leeds Knights coach Dave Whistle open to exploring new signing options after Hull Pirates demise

LIKE everybody else involved in NIHL National, Dave Whistle was saddened when he heard of Hull Pirates’ decision on Thursday to withdraw from the league for the 2021-22 season.

Leeds Knights' head coach Dave Whistle. Picture courtesy of Richard Murray.

But as Pirates’ owner Shane Smith puts his plans on hold for a few months in readiness for Hull’s return to the fray in 2022-23, the next few days and weeks are likely to see a scramble from some, if not all, the nine remaining teams to try and tie up some of those Pirates’ players who are now on the market.

Most of the Pirates’ 2019-20 roster had verbal agreements to return for the coming season but – given the continued delays to Hull Ice Arena’s refurbishment – Smith has had no choice but to cut them free.

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Geographically, Leeds would be a logical switch for Hull-based players, it being the closest rival playing at the same level. Whistle says he has already held talks with a number of Pirates players.

TARGET: Hull Pirates' player-coach Jason Hewitt - who topped 100 points during the 2019-20 NIHL National season - is sure to attract plenty of attention with Hull not icing in 2021-22. Picture: Dean Woolley.

But he also has other options to explore, both at home and abroad, decisions on which will not be made until he arrives in the UK next week to meet up with team owner Steve Nell.

Few would argue against the quality of the roster player-coach Jason Hewitt put together for the inaugural NIHL National campaign back in 2019-20, a campaign which was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

Talented homegrown forwards such as Matty Davies, Lee Bonner, Sam Towner and Jordan Fisher would not look out of place on any other second-tier roster, much like experienced defenceman such as Jonathan Kirk, Kevin Phillips and Lee Haywood.

Then there is Hewitt himself, top scorer for the whole league in 2019-20 when he registered 101 points, including 44 goals in just 43 games.

MOVING ON: Experienced defenceman Jonathan Kirk is likely to have many potential suitors now he is free to sign elsewhere. Picture: Dean Woolley.

With just seven weeks until the scheduled start of the season Whistle has time to fine tune his line-up and he remains open to persuasion in terms of who he will offer those last remaining spots to.

“It is sad that Hull are not going to be playing during this season,” said Whistle. “Ever since I’ve been around, there has always been a team in Hull. It’s not a good scenario to lose a hockey team in any league.

“But, hopefully, Hull will be back with us next year, I know that is the intention of everybody involved in the league..

“Over the last few years they’ve been a really good team in the NIHL and you’d like to think there’s no reason why they can’t just come back and start playing again.

Dave Whistle still needs to tie down a No 2 goaltender to back-up first-choice Sam Gospel. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“There are a lot of talented players from that area.”

Whistle will have to spend a few days of quarantine upon arrival to the UK from Canada but, once completed, he hopes to be in Leeds by Monday, July 26.

So far, Whistle has nine players signed up, but is still in the market for potentially another two defencemen, as well as six more forwards and a No 2 goaltender to back-up Sam Gospel.

“I’ve talked to a few Hull players, some Hull players have already signed somewhere else,” said Whistle. “I want to just see who is available and who isn’t and, obviously, there are other options out there for us too.

“I only really have a couple of roster slots left, but there is definitely potential for a couple of them to come to us.

“I should know more by the end of next week where we are.”