Following a well-earned two week break, the ice hockey season restarts with a vengeance this weekend – with all of the Widnes teams in action – and each one having their individual targets to achieve by the end of the season.
The YKK sponsored Widnes Wild NIHL team are top of the Laidler Division and their stated aim is to win the league title that has so tantalisingly eluded in them in recent years, having finished runners up for the last three seasons in a row.
The Wild have never been in such a good position at this point of the season before. They lead the league table by 9 points, having picked up wins against all the other teams in the division and heading into the home straight, they have an impressive run of 14 wins on the trot which they will be keen to extend into the New Year.
Widnes resume their Laidler Division title campaign this Sunday 6th January with a game away to the Blackburn “Hawks 2” development team. As the name suggests, unlike the main Blackburn Hawks Moralee Division team, this Blackburn team’s main aim is to develop younger players and give them experience of playing regular league games. As such they are not really in the chase for trophies and, indeed, have lost all of their 18 games so far this season, conceding 235 goals while scoring just 37. Widnes beat them 22-2 in their only meeting so far this season back in October where they out-shot the Hawks by 87 to 14 and, while Sunday’s game might not be quite so one-sided being played on Blackburn home ice, even with the best will in the world it is hard to predict anything but a win for the Wild.
The following Saturday – 12th January – Widnes travel to Coventry for the second time to play the NIHL Blaze team who they have beaten three times this season already. They won 0-8 back in October in the Midlands and then beat the Blaze 7-3 and 8-3 at home in November and December.
Coventry are having a bit of a “Jekyll and Hyde” season so far, beating leading teams on some occasions and then losing to lesser teams on others. Their most recent game – just before Christmas – saw them beat the league’s second place team Sheffield Senators 6-5 in a highly dramatic game that had two goals in the last 60 seconds of the match.
That win did the Wild a huge favour by wiping out one of the games in hand that Sheffield had over them in the title race but Widnes will need to make sure they safely negotiate this potential banana skin in order to maintain their championship credentials.
The first home game of 2019 at Planet Ice Widnes comes just 24 hours after the trip to Coventry when the Wild take on the Sheffield Senators – 5.30pm face off. That should be a fascinating game to watch as , depending on how other results go between then and now, it game could have a huge impact on the destination of the league championship for the 2018-19 season.
While the Wild men’s team are away at Blackburn this Sunday, the Wild women’s team make the slightly longer trip to play the Bracknell Firebees down in Berkshire.
The Wild women have a new look team for this season and have taken on over a dozen new players who, before this season, had little or no experience of playing regular league ice hockey.
It is quite a steep learning curve and, as such, the Wild women have lost all of their 5 league games to date but, as their main aim for this season is to help the new players develop and to establish a firm base to sustain the club for future years, there is no particular cause for alarm.
Sunday’s opponents have also yet to pick up a point this season, having lost all of their four league games so far so it will be an interesting test for the new-look Wild women to see where they stand and how much work there is still left to do.
Following this game, the Wild women are next at home on Sunday 20th January when they face current league leaders Nottingham Vipers at Planet Ice Widnes – 5.30pm face off.
In fact, 6 of their 8 remaining league games will be played at home which should give them an extra boost as they navigate their way through this exciting transitional season.
There is, however, still competitive ice hockey to be seen at Planet Ice Widnes this weekend!
This Saturday 5th January, the Widnes Wild Academy Under 15 team take on their Blackburn counterparts in an EIHA North U15 League Div 3 game – 6.50pm face off.
The Under 15s team are playing league ice hockey for the first time this season and are, for the most part, coming up against teams who have played together for 7 or 8 years already and facing players with a huge amount of league experience.
Their first game was an 11-2 defeat away to Blackburn back in September and they lost to them at home 4-11 in early December. As with the new-look women’s team, this is very much a season of development for the fledgling Academy teams and, while they won’t be battling for any honours this time around, firm foundations are being put down for benefits to be reaped in future years.
This Sunday 6th January the Academy Under 9 team are hosting a “Cross Ice” tournament featuring teams from Deeside, Telford, Blackburn and Manchester Storm.
Cross Ice hockey sees games being played across the width of the ice pad, rather than along the length of it and the aim is to help younger players concentrate on developing important skills such as puck-handling, shooting, skating, co-ordination and decision-making without wearing themselves out skating the whole length of the ice to reach the goals.
The games are played for fun with no scores or player statistics being recorded and the youngsters get lots of ice time playing against different teams to help build their skills and confidence.
The Under 9s Cross Ice tournament starts at 4.20pm on Sunday and admission is free – as it is also for the U15 game on Saturday.