Leeds Knights coach Ryan Aldridge welcomes greater competitiveness across NIHL National
Not so. Not one bit.
Going into this weekend’s’ double-header Yorkshire derby with third-placed Sheffield Steeldogs – the first instalment being tonight at Elland Road (6.30pm) – the Knights are actually tied at the top of the table with Peterborough Phantoms.
Granted, Peterborough have played two games more but it is a clear indicator of how close the regular season is likely to be throughout 2022-23.
Leeds are the only team to get the better of the Phantoms this season – twice – while the Steeldogs arrive in Leeds on Saturday night boasting a five-game unbeaten run of their own, one extended by virtue of a hard-fought derby win over Hull Seahawks on Tuesday.
Before the season, Knights’ head coach Ryan Aldridge believed that the addition of two further teams would spread the quality further around, creating a more even playing field. So far, he looks to have been proved right.
“I think the league has spread out a little bit this year in terms of quality,” said Aldridg. “And for the better. It’s a great league – every game is up in the air, nothing is a given and you have to work for the win every single night.
“There are no easy games in this league. We’ve had some high-scoring games this year, but I don’t think all of those scorelines have necessarily reflected the actual games.”
The Knights got the better of the Steeldogs twice in pre-season, but it will have no bearing on a head-to-head series that Aldridge expects to be as tough as any in 2022-23.
Greg Wood’s team are likely to be missing key personnel still, including influential forwards Jason Hewitt and Lee Bonner, while defenceman Tim Smith and Lee Haywood were also missing from the line-up that got the better of Matty Davies’s Seahawks in midweek.
“They’ve got a lot of years of hockey behind them, especially that D-core,” added Aldridge. “There’s a lot of experience.
“They are a team who you just can’t afford to have an off night against because you know they will punish you.
"They are a very tough team to play against, definitely. But then so are we.”