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Knights crowned the new champions on Telford Tigers’ ice

Telford Tigers head coach Tom Watkins paid tribute to new NIHL National League champions after the Tigers handed their title to Leeds Knights.

Vladimir Luka scores the Tigers’ second goal of the night at Telford Ice Rink
Vladimir Luka scores the Tigers’ second goal of the night at Telford Ice Rink

The Knights were crowned 2022/23 winners at Telford Ice Rink on Sunday – clinching the win they needed at the Tigers, champions a year ago.

And Watkins noted the difference between the new champions and a Telford side still scrapping to confirm their play-off place.

“We had a good solid start to the game, we wanted to set the tone physically and I felt we really got that balance right,” he said. “The focus was to try to grind Leeds down, wear them down physically – they’ve played a lot of hockey of late – but credit to them they showed their quality.

“Good teams find a way to win and they did that – that’s a quality of a team who are league champions and we are a team fighting for a play-off spot.

“The ability to make a difference, affect the game in the grey areas, in the key moments, they have that. It’s something we’ve been trying to find all year.

“The difference was simply special teams – their power play got two goals where ours didn’t make a difference.

“Congratulations to all the players and staff of the Leeds Knights. Ryan (Aldridge) has a done a great job moulding that group and setting the standard all season.

“His players have bought in got on board and competed hard every night. A league championship is well deserved.”

Tigers remained without Corey Goodison for the match, but saw Deakan Fielder return after suspension.

The opening period was fast paced and saw end-to-end attacking, with Tigers scoring first in the sixth minute. Fin Howells found Ricky Plant in space and Plant’s shot on the Leeds’ goal rebounded off the pads of Sam Gospel and landed perfectly for Scott McKenzie to tap home.

Tigers went close to a second goal when Rory Herrman hit the crossbar and was denied on a breakaway by Gospel. As the period ended, Leeds equalised with Tigers ruing some poor defending.

Rhodes Mitchell-King failed to clear the puck from the Tigers’ defensive zone and turned it over to Matt Haywood, who had a free shot at goal and fired high over Brad Day’s shoulder and into the net to draw the sides level. Early in the second period, Tigers regained the lead when Rory Herrman sent Tom Carlon in on goal. Carlon’s shot was saved by Gospel, but Vladimir Luka was first to the rebound to fire home.

Herrman was called for slashing, with Leeds’ retaliation on Herrman not called – and the visitors took advantage to draw level with a power play goal as Kieron Brown’s shot was tipped past Day by Haywood.

A hooking penalty against Henry Adams would prove crucial as Leeds scored their second power play goal of the game.

Cole Shudra’s pass across the ice was met with a powerful slap shot by Brown, which flew low past Day into the bottom corner of the goal, with just three seconds left on the penalty kill.

Leeds headed off at the break ahead despite Telford’s strong performance. And early in the third period, they scored a fourth goal.

A lobbed pass over the Telford defence allowed Haywood a breakaway and he finished with a wrist shot past Day to double the lead and complete his hat-trick.

Leeds played sensible hockey for the remainder of the game, chipping the puck out of their zone and not allowing Tigers any offensive chances of note.

And with Milton Keynes losing in Slough to Bees, the victory meant that Leeds were crowned NIHL National League champions.

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