Leeds Knights coach Ryan Aldridge urges players to embrace pressure of NIHL National play-offs

RYAN ALDRIDGE has urged his Leeds Knights players to embrace the pressure as they strive to keep their NIHL National play-off campaign alive this weekend.

The Knights lost their opening weekend double-header against Milton Keynes Lightning last time out and know one more defeat will probably signal the end of their bid to make it through to the Final Four Play-off Weekend in Coventry on April 30-May 1.

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Leeds Knights in ‘elimination hockey’ as they battle for their NIHL National pla...

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Tonight sees them host Bees IHC before heading to Shropshire tomorrow to take on regular season league champions Telford Tigers.

Bees also lost their opening two games – to Telford – meaning whoever loses tonight at Elland Road is effectively done for the season.

“It’s a must-win game for us, absolutely,” said Knights’ head coach Aldridge. “We’ve just got to absorb and like that pressure. We’ve got to find a way of handling the pressure and we will find out how we are as a team if we do that. I think the boys are going to handle it okay.”

Leeds enjoyed comfortable superiority over Doug Sheppard’s side during the regular season, hammering them 7-1 in their Autumn Cup season-opener at Elland Road before winning the head-to-head league series between the two teams five games to one.

Ryan Aldridge - Leeds Knights head coach. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

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But as Leeds found out to their cost against Milton Keynes last weekend, the play-offs are a different beast and with today’s visitors having gone down 6-1 and 6-2 against Telford last week, both teams come into tonight’s clash knowing everything is on the line.

“The main thing to realise is that it’s going to be different to the last couple of times we’ve played them, those were kind of flat hockey games,” added Aldridge, who welcomes back teenage defenceman Archie Hazeldine from GB Under-18 duty, but is still without two-way forward Harry Gulliver.

“It certainly won’t be like that this time around because everything is on the line for both of us, it’s a massive must-win game for both teams. In fact, for both of us, both games this weekend are probably must-win games.

Defender Archie Hazeldine makes a welcome return to the Leeds Knights line-up having missed the first weekend of the play-offs due to being away with GB Under-18s at the Division 2A World Championships in Estonia. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“We definitely look like we’ve got more jump in us this week in practice than the previous two weeks. We’ve played short for a long period of time - it’s been a long season and has been so draining but having seen them these past two nights, they look good.

And they’ve just got to make one final push get through these next four games and, all being well, we can find ourselves at Coventry. The boys obviously want to be there.”

Sheffield Steeldogs will look to build on their 4-2 win at Basingstoke Bison when they take on Swindon Wildcats in a double-header weekend, the first encounter in Wiltshire tonight before the two meet at Ice Sheffield again tomorrow.

Greg Wood’s team have already face-off nine times against the Wildcats this season, the six-game league series being all-square at three wins apiece, but it is in the Cups that the Steeldogs have had the advantage.

Greg Wood - Sheffield Steeldogs head coach. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The group phase of the Autumn Cup saw the South Yorkshire team thrash Swindon 7-2, while after drawing the first tie of the National Cup semi-final on home ice 1-1, they then went on the road and came away with a memorable 4-3 win at the Link Centre to book a place in the final against Telford, who they also defeated over two legs.

While a trip to Swindon is never easy, the Steeldogs can go into the game buoyed by having won there twice already this season. At Ice Sheffield, Swindon have won just once in four visits.