Wild’s Dan Bracegirdle celebrates the 2018 Laidler Division title win with father David and mother Kathy. (Photo by Geoff White).
Widnes defenceman Dan Bracegirdle was one of the original core of players to form the team back in the summer of 2013 and he was rewarded recently with a special award to recognise 100 appearances as a Wild player.
Bracegirdle had been playing with the Fylde Flyers ENL team in Cleveleys along with player coach Mark Gillingham and when that team suddenly folded at the end of the 2012/13 season and Gillingham was offered the job of head coach at the new Widnes rink, it was natural that he would he bring a number of the Flyers players with him to build a team around.
Along with Bracegirdle came Bobby Caunce, Andrew Clark, Troy Evans, Anthony Melbourne, Dan Etherington, Joe Charlton, Kurtis Hall and netminders Greg Ruxton and Steve Gilmartin and, of that original contingent, Dan is the only one still playing for the Wild.
Blackpool born Bracegirdle learnt his junior hockey in Blackburn but didn’t actually play any competitive senior hockey until the Fylde Flyers first season 2011/12. He played 47 games for the seaside team over 2 seasons, scoring 4 goals and 2 assists from his defensive role before joining the Wild.
He missed the 2015/6 and 16/17 seasons through illness but bounced back to become an important part of Ollie Barron’s play off and league title winning side.
Dan played in the Wild’s first ever game – a challenge match against Sheffield Spartans on 11th August 2013 – and went on to have successful first season with the fledgling Wild team. Looking back to that first season, he said:
“I remember from the word go the enthusiasm and commitment people around the team had. The off-ice staff and volunteers were all as committed as the players were and you could tell from the beginning there was going to be something good here for years to come.”
“The main thing I remember from the first game was the fans! To be a brand new team and have that many people there to watch you play and making the kind of noise they made, I was flabbergasted and they haven’t taken a backward step since.”
“The season as a whole was a successful one I’d say for our first. We made the playoffs in Solihull and established a good enough reputation to build year on year over the following seasons.”
Talking about his favourite memories with the Wild, Bracegirdle said:
“There’s a few for sure! I think it’s hard to top winning the league and the playoffs in the same year, that was really special. Winning the playoffs the season before that meant a lot though too as that was the first trophy I was part of with the club and the presentation nights after both of those have been pretty memorable.”
“On an individual note, I don’t pop up with too many goals so the one away from home against Nottingham less than 4 seconds into the game I won’t forget, as well as the game winner against Deeside at home in the 14/15 season. It’s no secret around the rink that I’m not Deeside’s biggest fan so to score the winner in a derby game at home meant a lot as I’m sure most people could tell from the celebration.”
When asked about which players had impressed him to most in his time at Widnes so far, Dan said:
“There have been lads that have played a few seasons here that I’ve played on the same teams as a lot throughout my life so the performances that those players like: Bobby Caunce, Shaun Dippnall and Greg Ruxton put in never really surprised me over the years.”
“In terms of guys I’d never played with before, there’s a long list of players I could reel off especially from the past few seasons when we’ve won both the league and playoffs – players I’d even played against in the past and didn’t realise how good they actually were. Watching lines like Brittle, Barron and Manning a few seasons back or Bullock, Novak and Dippnall last year, the way those guys clicked was really impressive.”
“That being said there’s guys, like TJ (Tom Jackson) and Bez (Hughes) who have been here from early on and who have developed over time into really good players that could play high up on any team in the league now – or even try their hand in the league above – and to see the commitment to improving from those guys has been really impressive too.”
Reflecting on the Wild’s season this year, considering all the various upheavals, Bracegirdle said:
“You could give this past season a mixed review, I’d say, but I think all in all with what has gone on we have to look at it as a success. I know that sounds odd because if you look at the standings we finished fourth, but I think the inconsistency with regards to awarding points for games that weren’t played was unfair especially because if the remaining games had gone ahead and results had gone in our favour we could have still won the league.”
“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we’d have been favourites to win the playoffs for a fourth year in a row back in our own rink either, so I think there are definitely positives you can pull from the season.”
“As a whole I think it was a colossal effort from everybody involved; the players, the management and the coaches all pulled together at the back end of the season and it all seemed to be coming together at the right time.”
“I think we’re all disappointed we weren’t able to see the season out and lift another cup for the fans that come week in and week out to watch us play, but at the end of the day, it was the right decision for games to stop when they did, people’s health and wellbeing are far more important than finishing the season.”
“On a personal note, once I came back from yet another injury, I felt like I really kicked on and was able to contribute well at our end of the ice as well as once or twice at the other end.”
“I have no problem doing the ‘less pretty’ aspects of the game like blocking shots or putting my body in places I know it’s going to take a bit of a beating if I know it’ll help the team and I just tried to do that as much as possible and as well as I could.”
“I’d have to say, though, as a season it’s probably been my most enjoyable so far. We lost a lot of good players from last year coming into this one, that was always going to be hard to replace but we had a great bunch of lads and a lot of character in the dressing room this season, the camaraderie and togetherness of the team made it really enjoyable to be a part of – and I think that’s a big reason why we were still in the running for trophies right till the very end.”
By the end of the current 2019/20 Laidler Division season, after 5 seasons with the Wild, Dan Bracegirdle had played 122 games, scoring 5 goals and 12 assists, with 150 penalty minutes.
Commenting on his award for having passed 100 games, Bracegirdle said:
“It feels good to have played so many games for the club, it’s taken long enough to get there that’s for sure! I’ve been unlucky with injuries and illness over my time at Widnes which has meant that I’ve often had to miss big parts of the season and twice miss the season entirely, so to finally pass the 100 game marker felt really good.”