Leeds Knights 22-23 Season Review
The Leeds Knights entered their sophomore season with little expectations, in what was widely considered as a building year by Head Coach Ryan Aldridge as he entered his first full season at the helm of the Knights.
At an average age of just 22, the Knights were the youngest team in the league, with player development and growth being at the heart of the team. Despite this, several players burst onto the scene in their debut season at this level, the defensive trio of Bailey Perre, Dylan Hehir and Josh Hodgkinson were consistent mainstays at the back-end, with Finn Bradon, Carter Hamill and Oli Endicott performing immaculately at the opposite end of the ice.
Despite the additions of young prospects, the off-season saw the Leeds Knights pick-up impressive signings such as Elite League Veteran Matt Haywood as well as import Zach Brooks, who made his professional debut with the Leeds Knights and Grant Cooper who joined straight out of the ECHL. Later in the season NCAA graduate Jake Witkowski was brought in, as was Mac Howlett, the duo adjusting superbly to the league, each logging above 1.9 points per game.
The season began with the Knights hitting the ground running with a 16-game win streak! With a regulation loss not on the cards until December, 21 games into the 56 game season.
After Christmas the impressive form continued, despite difficult tests from the Peterborough Phantoms and MK Lightning, that saw us drop vital league points to our title rivals. The bouncebackability of the Leeds Knights was something that rarely faltered, losing no more than 2 games consecutively throughout the season and finishing with just 5 regulation losses.
A tricky start to the National Cup Final could be an understatement, as we faced our biggest loss of the season in a 6-0 first-leg at Planet Ice Peterborough. But with their backs against the wall and just a week after wrapping up the league title, the Leeds Knights gave it their all. The second-leg comeback was almost complete, but the mountain was too tall to climb, and the Knights just fell short with an empty netter in the last 30 seconds putting things just out of reach as things finished 6-2 on the night.
Despite the momentary disappointment of not picking up a second piece of silverware, just two days later the Leeds Knights received the League trophy at The Castle, where the celebrations once again commenced, this time in front of a large crowd on home ice. Head Coach Ryan Aldridge said “It feels great, unexpected but we’ve had a phenomenal year and the boys deserve it. We did it quicker than we thought we were going to, but we’ve done it and now we’ve just got to keep building and building.”
The Leeds Knights are your Planet Ice NIHL National Division League Champions!
After the league season was wrapped up, on came the Playoffs where we faced the Basingstoke Bison as we looked to reach the Final Four in Coventry. After just announcing that they would not be taking part in the 23-24 season, it was all to play for for the Bison who were looking to go out on a high!
Despite a close second-leg in Basingstoke, a 9-goal deficit was just too much to overturn and we advanced to the Final Four with a 15-4 win on aggregate. Then came the Telford Tigers in the semi-final, fresh off the back of stunning the MK Lightning after a late season surge had been ignited in Shropshire. In a 13-goal game, where the lead exchanged hands on multiple occasions, 6-goals for the Tigers including a hat-trick from Vladimir Luka wasn’t enough to stop the Knights with a Kieran Brown winner booking our place in Sunday’s final, in the final few minutes of the game!
In the Final we faced Raiders IHC, in a one-off winner takes all showdown. The Raiders had beat the Sheffield Steeldogs the day before, after beating the 3rd place Peterborough Phantoms on their road to Coventry. The game started with a flurry of goals, after we put 3 past Ethan James of the Raiders in the first 5 minutes. However, they rallied back after a timeout and things remained close throughout the game. The Knights led by 3 just before the half-way point in the second period at 5-2. The lead was swiftly cut down to 2, and then to just 1 goal with 5 minutes on the clock. Sam Gospel stood strong in between the pipes after facing 42 shots in total and after absorbing the pressure in the final few minutes the Knights came out on top!
The Leeds Knights had been crowned Planet Ice NIHL National Division Playoff Champions!
The Leeds Knights were the highest scoring team in the league, with 3 forwards finishing in the top 4 of league scoring. In their second year in a Leeds Knights jersey, newly appointed captain Kieran Brown and line-mate Cole Shudra lead from the front, linking up to finish 1st and joint-2nd as the league’s top point scorers, with 121 and 114 points respectively. Kieran Brown also led the league in goals scored, becoming the top point scorer and top goal scorer for the second year running, with 57 goals in 56 games. Cole Shudra grabbed 50 goals as well, finishing as the 3rd highest goal scorer in the league. Finishing 4th in league scoring, and 1st in assists, the impressive off-season pick-up of Elite League Veteran Matt Haywood didn’t disappoint either.
However, the young defensive core of Jordan Griffin, Lewis Baldwin, Josh Hodgkinson, Bailey Perre, Dylan Hehir and Archie Hazeldine accompanied by the experience of Thomas Barry and Sam Zajac, were equally as important and responsible for the Leeds Knights becoming league champions. Their defensive efforts resulted in just 142 goals against on the year, the lowest of any team in the league for a massive goal differential of 166, with the next best goal difference being just 92.
The catalysts of the impressive stat lines for the defensive display were the goalie tandem of Sam Gospel and Harrison Walker, both of which performed incredibly anytime they took their place between the pipes. The pair shared 5 shutouts on the season and held teams to just 1 goal scored on 15 other occasions.
The 22-23 season saw #12 Kieran Brown be announced as the league’s Player of the Year for the second season running, to go along with his accolade of being top goal and points scorer and it also saw our Head Coach Ryan Aldridge be hailed as the league’s Coach of the Year as well!
With the team awards at our Supporters Club Awards Night being as follows:
Forward of the Year – #27 Cole Shudra
Defenseman of the Year – #31 Sam Gospel
Coach’s Player – #11 Matt Haywood
Player’s Player – #11 Matt Haywood
Fan’s Player – #11 Matt Haywood
The Knights have now been in two cup finals and completed a league and playoff double in just their second season of existence, while selling out Planet Ice Leeds on a handful of occasions. There’s an amazing fanbase that has been established in Leeds – whether that’s at home at The Castle, or at away games, and all eyes are now onto the upcoming 23-24 season!
Join us for the 23-24 season by getting your early bird season ticket while you still have chance – get yours here!