Despite the absence of several key players, Widnes Wild got the result that mattered, in the final league game of the season. This comprehensive victory at the Hull Arena ensured that Wild leapfrogged Sheffield and Hull to claim the final play off spot. With Widnes fans making up more than half of the sparse crowd, a mysterious delay meant the game was nearly fifteen minutes late starting. Tom McDonald made a rare start in goal for the visitors.
Jets got off to their usual high pressure start, looking for the all important opener. A break down the left involving Spurgeon and Pearson resulted in a powerful angled shot being parried by McDonald with Kieron Beach lurking at the far post. He lifted the puck into the roof of the net to put the Jets ahead in the third minute. Needing to get back into the game immediately, Widnes then incurred a string of penalties for minor offences – twice going down to three men. Only a string of fine saves from Tom McDonald prevented Jets going further ahead. When Widnes finally got back to five skaters, the visitors were on terms within seconds. Filip Supa got clear down the left, feeding Bobby Caunce to fire home low past Jack Dalby at 10.26. Both sides looked for the advantage before an altercation between Mark Higson and Hull’s Dave Ritchie brought the crowd to their feet. As both players dropped the gloves, the officials restrained both players before sending them to the penalty box. With just over a minute remaining in the period Wild broke the deadlock. Ben Brown and Shaun Dipnall combined well before Filip Supa finished from close in. As the buzzer went for the end of the period, a mid ice disagreement between Wild’s Dan Bracegirdle and Hull’s young star, Lee Bonner, led to several fights breaking out and the officials sending the teams from the ice.
After a lengthy interval debate between officials, the second period began in even more controversial style. A match penalty awarded against Hull’s Daniel Sayer for the pre-buzzer incident resulted in the player appearing to butt end a match official as Sayer left the ice. This resulted in an extremely rare double match penalty against Sayer and further penalties awarded against Tom Ratcliffe for Wild and Ben Sayer and Corey Stones for Hull. Hull were now faced with a ten minute numerical disadvantage and inside a minute Filip Supa had put Widnes 3-1 ahead again assisted by Caunce and Dipnall. A patient build up resulted in Supa forcing the puck home between the netminders pads. There was constant pressure from Widnes, revelling in the extra space and in the 28th minute they went 4-1 up. Again it was the first line combination Caunce and Dipnall feeding Supa, who flipped the puck high into the net. Immediately big defenceman Callum Ruddick burst through and his powerful shot was well saved by Dalby. Inside a minute, it was 5-1, Tom Jackson firing home low through a pack of players into the bottom right corner against his former team. Tom Ratcliffe was next on the scoresheet, firing his first of the season high into the top corner at 29.38.
After constant visitor pressure, a mistake in defence led to Joe Anson pulling a goal back for Hull on a breakaway. Filip Supa added his fourth goal at 33.21 and what a great goal it was. Dipnall and Caunce worked well down the left before Caunce’s beautifully measured pass was hammered home at the left post by the Slovakian.
The final period was rather an anticlimax for the Widnes travelling support, the visitors absorbing more pressure as the home side tried to add to their goal tally. They took the score to 7-3, at 46.26, when scorer Jordan Fisher seemed to be inside the crease. A magnificent save from Tom McDonald then brought the crowd to life. Falling backwards he caught a blistering shot destined for the top left corner. The Widnes netminder followed this up with a string of fine saves as Hull tried to add to their account. A final goal did eventually come from the Jets, Callum Craigie forcing the puck a further consolation home at 59.09.
The final buzzer brought great celebrations from the Widnes players and fans together. To make it to the play off weekend has been a huge achievement for a new club. Tom McDonald took the MVP for an excellent show in net, saving 43 of 47 shots fired at him. The Wild now have a fortnight’s preparation before travelling to Solihull for the first semi-final against the formidable home team, champions Solihull Barons. The game is scheduled for Easter Saturday, April 19th, with a teatime face off. Full arrangements will be posted on social media. Whatever the outcome, Head Coach Mark Gillingham, can be proud of his side’s achievements in their inaugural season:
“It’s fantastic for us to make the play-offs in our first season. Around Christmas, it looked like we’d be battling to try to avoid finishing at the bottom of the table, but we changed a few things and managed to turn ourselves around, and our results since then have spoken for themselves. We’ve now got two weeks to prepare ourselves for the semi-final against Solihull, and just like the last few fixtures, we know how difficult it’s going to be. All we can do is prepare ourselves as well as we can, and see how it goes on the day. We’re happy for our fans as much as anything. They’ve been fantastic all season, and now we’ve been able to give them another day out to round off the campaign to say thank you.”