New Leeds ice hockey boss Steve Nell has familiar feeling as he sets out on new challenge

IT IS fair to say the past few days have been a bit of a whirlwind for Steve Nell, ever since he revealed he was the new owner of Leeds’ senior ice hockey team.

NEW HOME: Steve Nell, the new owner Leeds' NIHL National ice hockey team. Picture: Steve Riding.

Already, he has revealed there will be a new head coach as well as a new name, with the Leeds Chiefs moniker set to be replaced in time for the 2021-22 NIHL National season.

News of the name change has disappointed some of the Chiefs’ fan base that was built up during their debut campaign in 2019-20, but the majority seem to be understanding of the need to move on in what is essentially a new era for the club.

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As for the new coach, Nell, who also owns Swindon Wildcats, has been impressed with both the number and quality of applications he has received since he opened up the position when announcing his takeover of the hockey operation at Elland Road last Friday.

CROWDED HOUSE: Planet Ice's Elland Road rink will hold more than 2,000 when full. Picture: Steve Riding.

Given the location of Leeds itself, a brand new rink and a quickly-established fanbase keen to build on the experience of backing the original Chiefs, Nell doesn’t expect to be short of options when making his final choice on who still stand behind the bench when the first puck drops on the 2021-22 campaign in September.

“It’s been a really good first few days, there have been lots of positives, lots of good discussions with the supporters club, players and we’ve got the applications coming in for the head coach role,” said Nell when interviewed in his new surroundings yesterday.

“I’m meeting lots of people regarding various roles within the club, but it’s all positive and it is an exciting time - I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

“From the applications we’ve had so far for the coach role, I can tell there are already some quality applications in there, some have got more experience than others, two or three are from outside the UK, so I’m going to let the process roll for another week or so.”

New team owner Steve Nell has spoken to several players who played for the Leeds CHiefs or who were signed up to play for the 2020-21 NIHL National season that was cancelled. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Over the last 17 years, Nell has built a successful hockey club in the shape of the Wiltshire-based Wildcats, seen by many as a model club at second-tier level, with a thriving junior academy.

For the 54-year-old from Sunderland, his newest project is almost like stepping back in time as he sets out on a similar journey once again, only this time 200 or so miles further north.

“This does take me back to that time in Swindon when, essentially, we were building something from scratch,” added Nell.

“I’d like to think I know a bit more about how to do it now, there was a lot of trial and error back in the early days down there and I’m sure we’re going to make some mistakes along the way here - but I’m sure we’re a lot further ahead than where we were when we started out in Swindon.

“It’s great to be able to be at a new rink, building a new team. The venue is great and I’m really looking forward to the challenge ahead.”

Although his chosen head coach will put together the majority of the roster this summer, Nell is keen for him to have some key pieces in place for when they take over.

Nell has already held talks with a number of players who either played during the Chiefs’ debut season or who were signed by player-coach Sam Zajac last summer in readiness for a 2020-21 campaign that never went ahead because of the pandemic.

Nell wants to make sure he doesn’t lose certain players to NIHL National rivals who will also be putting their rosters together for next season.

It’s understood Leeds will make their first player signing announcement tomorrow, with Nell expecting a handful more to be made before the new coach arrives.

“I want to have some pieces in place for the new coach to build from - we need to get a few pieces of the jigsaw together,” he said.

“I’ll be having meetings with players and support staff over the next couple of days and with others early next week - a few key signings are necessary, the ones that any coach would want on their roster.

“Sam Zajac has been very helpful, it was a good roster he had put together last summer - he just never got a chance to see it perform which was disappointing.”

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