It was to be a turbulent weekend for hockey fans in the North of England as they descended on Sheffield for the NIHL Moralee & Laidler Conference Playoffs. Saturday’s games from the Moralee Conference would see league champions Blackburn Hawks beat Solway Sharks 5-2, followed by 2nd seed Whitley Warriors narrowly losing out to 3rd seed Solihull Barons 5-3.
The Widnes Wild (2nd seed) and the Nottingham Lions (3rd seed) would kick off the weekend at 10:30 on Saturday morning. The two Laidler Conference sides have had nothing between them all season with the Lions just edging the head to head with 2 wins a draw and 1 loss.
Widnes were without Greg Ruxton again as he recovers from an ongoing injury problem and acquired the services of young prospect goalie David Good from the Hull Jets. The first period ebbed and flowed with both teams playing defensively and trying not to make any mistakes. The Lions would take the lead though, a shot from the blue line squeaking through the pads of Good and trickling over the line to the delight of the Nottingham players. The period would end 1-0 to the Lions.
The Widnes Wild came out fast in the 2nd period, dominating in large spells forcing the Lions into penalty trouble. Michal Fico found himself open in front of the net on the powerplay with a deflected pass creating a wide open net for the Slovak to pass the puck into. Further dominance by the Wild created opportunities to take the lead but they couldn’t find the breakthrough, the 2nd period would end 1-1.
An early powerplay goal from Geoff Wigglesworth gave the Wild an early 2-1 lead in the 3rd period. A solid defensively display kept the Lions out with player coach Scott Mckenzie able to put the puck into the empty net as the Lions pulled their goalie in a last ditch attempt to tie the game. An excellent and fair display from both teams providing a showcase of NIHL hockey to get the weekend off to a fabulous start.
The second NIHL Laidler Conference semi-final was between the Laidler Champions Deeside Dragons and Blackburn Eagles. After a great start, the Eagles couldn’t hold off the offensive power from the Dragons with the final score of 9-4.
Sundays Finals consisted of the Deeside Dragons (1) vs Widnes Wild (2) in the Laidler Conference and Blackburn Hawks (1) vs Solihull Barons (3). The first final of the day was between the Dragons and the Wild, the Dragons looking for their 2nd piece of silverware this season as the Wild looked for their first in their short history.
The game started at a frantic pace with the Dragons racing into a two goal lead, the Wild however, with their never say die attitude, fought back with goals from Scott Mckenzie & Pavel Vales to tie the game and end the period at 2-2.
A string of mistakes from the Wild gave the Dragons their second two goal lead, a frustrating period for the Wild fans but it would end at 4-2 to the welsh side.
As they have all season though, the Wild players never gave up, they battled through and through and managed to scrape a goal back with just under 2 minutes left to play, Danny Bullock tapping into an empty net with the Dragons goalie caught out of position. Coach Mckenzie pulled the goalie to try and gain an advantage with the extra skater but it would be to no avail, the Dragons managing to gain control of the puck and fire it into the open cage. The game ended 5-3 to the Deeside Dragons as they claimed their 2nd trophy of the season. Coach Mckenzie had this to say about his team’s performance over the weekend;
‘What can I say about this group of players, they are an outstanding group of men that gave me absolutely everything they had in both games this weekend. On Saturday we had an extremely tough challenge against a really strong Nottingham team, they are passionate, play physically but we matched them and took our chances when we got them. Sundays game was tough, Deeside are offensively gifted, we knew that and really got punished for making one or two mistakes. That happens in hockey and unfortunately in a final that can really hurt you. In saying that, we were great, we never gave up, played physical, stuck up for each other and we were still in the game in the dying moments. I was extremely proud of the guys and also want to send out my gratitude to all the family and friends of the players that came to support us as well as the best fans in the league, our very own Wild Ones, you guys were fabulous support all weekend.’
DVD and Digital media copies of the playoff weekend can be bought from http://pyromedia.co/
The Widnes Wild have one more fixture remaining from them this season, a huge fixture against Moralee conference Sheffield Spartans. A promotion/relegation game that if the Wild win, it will see them promoted into NIHL Moralee Conference. The one off game will be played at Blackburn Ice Arena on Saturday 16th April, doors open at 17:15 with a 17:45 face-off. For further information, email; firstname.lastname@example.org.