After two seasons of fierce rivalry with their neighbours, the Deeside Dragons, the Widnes Wild ice hockey team were narrowly ahead on wins by 5 to 3, however, the summer leading up to the 2015/16 season caused much discussion in both the Wild and Dragons camps.
Matt Wainwright went back to Deeside after just one season in Widnes and he was joined by import Filip Supa who had also chosen to switch allegiances. As the Slovak had been originally “discovered” and given his first break by the Wild team, many fans saw this particular move as the ultimate betrayal.
The arrival of Scott McKenzie as new Wild player coach – and then a batch of new players at Deeside controversially financed by the backing of the Red Hockey media group – suggested that both sets of fans were to be in for a fascinating season.
Widnes made a good start in their first game against Deeside at the Silver Blades rink on 13th September, leading 2-1 at the first period break with goals from George Crawshaw and Geoff Wigglesworth and then going 3-1 up with a goal from McKenzie in the 23rd minute. However they were outshot by more than to 2 to 1 in the second period and conceded 5 straight unanswered goals to trail 3-6 heading into the third period. By then, the damage had been done. The Dragons came away with a 4-7 victory and Widnes were left playing “catch up” for the rest of the season.
Deeside topped the league pretty much from start to finish and, while the Wild looked fairly secure in second place, they were unable to take any points off the Dragons to close the gap.
A closer game at Deeside on 8th November saw Widnes narrowly lose 3-2 – the task being made more difficult than it needed to be as McKenzie was the off ice for the crucial last 6 minutes of the game with a major roughing penalty.
Valentine’s Day 2016 saw the Wild’s best result of the season against Deeside with a highly entertaining 7-7 home draw. It was the only point that Widnes would take off the Dragons all season but the Welshmen still had the last laugh as the result secured them Laidler Division title that same evening.
The fourth and final league meeting between the two teams – played at Deeside on 26th March – finished in a controversial fashion. With nothing to play for except local pride, the Dragons appeared to adopt an unnecessarily overly aggressive approach to the game.
Once again, Widnes scored first through Scott McKenzie but two goals from Adrian Palak saw Deeside lead 2-1 at the first break.
Early in the second period Wild netminder Greg Ruxton suffered a recurrence of an old knee injury after a strong challenge which put him out of action for the rest of the season and he had to be replaced by Widnes Wildcats rec netminder Ian Thirkettle, who had been called up as emergency cover for the game.
Before Thirkettle even had time to get settled, Matt Wainwright scored for the Dragons to put them 3-1 up and shortly after this, Wild’s Lee Kemp had to go to hospital to be treated for a head injury after a dangerous check from behind against the boards.
Keen to avoid any further injuries to his players with the play offs just around the corner, coach McKenzie withdrew the team from the ice early. The score at that point stood at 3-1 to Deeside and the EIHA later decided that the Dragons should be awarded the win.
Widnes finished the season in second place in the Laidler Division table – 8 points behind champions Deeside. Deeside had only lost 1 game all season while the Wild had lost three times to them and twice to Nottingham.
The two local rival teams also met in the 2016 play off final at iceSheffield and, once again, it was a case of “so near yet so far”, with the Dragons winning 5-3 to secure the league and play off double.
With Dragons winning promotion to the Moralee Division for the 2016/17 season, there would be no league games between the two teams for the following season, but the keen competitive spirit between the two camps would continue all the same.
With the Dragons winning promotion to the Moralee Division for the following season, there were no league meetings between Widnes and Deeside but still plenty of talking points. In June Scott McKenzie suddenly went to join the Welsh outfit as player coach, taking Chris Gee, Geoff Wigglesworth and a couple of “almost” signings – who had just been prepared to put pen to paper for Widnes – with him.
Widnes went on to have a good season in the Laidler Division, finishing second once again with Ollie Barron’s new look team, while the Dragons had a difficult time in the higher Moralee Division, winning just 9 out of 28 games and ending up second bottom. This set of circumstances set up a mouth-watering Promotion/ Relegation play off game between the two local rivals as a season finale, to be played on neutral ice in Blackburn. That proved to be a closely-fought, yet bad tempered, encounter with 114 PIM being handed out and the Dragons eventually winning 4-3 in sudden death over time.
With Deeside still in the Moralee Division for the 2017/18 season, and Widnes still in the Laidler Division, there were no league meetings again between the two fierce rivals. However, this season, the Deeside club decided to ice a “Dragons2” development team made up of mainly young and inexperienced players to give them some extra match experience and they entered the North 2 division, along with a similarly composed Blackburn team.
There was plenty of Widnes interest in this new “Dragons 2” team with ex-Wildcat and Wild import Michal Fico leading the attack and former Riverside Raiders rec players Owen Tennant, Charles Perry, Dave Priestley, Gez Evans & Sam Plant also lining up for the Welsh side.
While it was good to be able to enjoy some local rivalry again, these matches were all very one sided, with the Wild winning easily on each occasion. They won 11-6 in the first meeting in November and then notched up a club record 2-22 victory away at the beginning of January.
The second home encounter of the season in February brought a 20-1 victory for Widnes and some unfortunate scenes that saw a sackful of penalties handed out and Fico potentially facing a lengthy ban.
The fourth game with the Dragons2 was cancelled due to bad weather and eventually awarded as a 0-0 draw by the EIHA which, apart from their 4 wins over the equally poor Hawks2 team, represented Deeside’s only positive result of the season.
During the summer, the Dragons main team dropped back down from the Moralee Division, having had a terrible time all round and finishing rock bottom of the table – and the two Deeside teams combined to play as a single unit in the Laidler Division for the following season.
The 2018/19 season was by far the most memorable for Wild players and fans as they finally won the Laidler Division league title after having come second for the previous three years. They also won all four league meetings against both the Dragons and Altrincham Aces, meaning that they had a complete clean sweep over all their main North West rivals for the first time ever.
Things started well for the Wild with a 2-5 win away on Deeside in November followed by an 11-4 victory at home in February. By the time Widnes travelled to North Wales again at the end of March they had already secured the league title and were able to celebrate the fact with a 5-9 win – and then were able to rub salt into the wounds a week later, when they received the league trophy after their final home game of the season when they beat the Dragons once again by a whacking 16-5.
The summer of 2019 saw a lot of movement behind the scenes with Widnes appointing Mike Clancy as new head coach following the retirement of Ollie Barron. Clancy had been a netminder with Flintshire Freeze back in the1990s and had a good reputation as a juniors coach at conference and international level and he brought with him his younger brother – former long term Dragons netminder Dave Clancy – and equipment manager Charles Humphries.
Following the Clancy brothers up the M56 to Widnes were Dragons players Jonah Armstrong and MJ Clancy and also Ryan Kemp – who, although most recently with Bradford Bulldogs, had also played several seasons at Deeside in the past. On the other side, former Riverside Raider Sam Plant was still turning out for the Dragons and was joined by former rec team-mate Mike Rogers who joined the Welsh team as back-up netminder.
The Wild had a very disappointing season overall and Clancy’s experimental new look team – a mix of promising young talent and experienced old heads – suffered from many long-term injuries.
The Dragons picked up their first win in Widnes since September 2015 with an all-round surprising 2-4 win on 8th December but the Wild redressed the balance winning 2-7 away in Deeside in early January.
That game was particularly notable for the Dragons players losing their heads once the game had started to run away from them, picking up an eye watering 108 PIM compared to 16 for Widnes.
On 2nd February the Wild edged ahead in terms of local bragging rights with a very close 5-4 win over the Dragons but they lost the final meeting of the season between the two sides 3-2 on 15th March in what was the Dragons’ last home game played to date.
Interestingly enough for the Dragons / Wild dynamic, over the course of the season Mike Rogers had been given his chance in goal for Deeside after an injury to their first choice netminder, women’s Team GB international Samantha Bolwell, and had given a very good account of himself. He played a blinder against his former rink-mates, turning away 31 of the 33 shots that he faced over the 60 minutes.
That result might have threatened the Wild’s late title challenge had the league programme not been curtailed the next day and Widnes, instead, finished the season in 4th place in the Laidler Division table, 9 points ahead of Deeside in 6th.
Over the past 7 seasons, Widnes have played Deeside Dragons 22 times (or, in fact, 26 if you include the 4 games against Dragons 2 development side) and, intriguingly, the Wild have won 11games to Deeside’s 10. The only ever draw came in the 7-7 game at Widnes on the day that Deeside won the Laidler Division title.
In that time, Widnes have scored 116 goals and conceded 101. The penalty count in games between the two teams is Wild 529 to Dragons 859, although that doesn’t count the 3-1 game that was abandoned in March 2016 nor the first ever Wild game away in North Wales in Sept 2013, which wasn’t recorded properly for some reason….