After competing well in the two away games against table topping Deeside Dragons, The Wild used their strength and experience to overcome a skilled and speedy Sheffield Senators. Widnes paraded new signings, Ben Brown from Manchester Minotaur’s, Matthew Watts from Rec Hockey and young Tom Ratcliffe returned following a three match ban. Experienced Richard Charles is still troubled by a shoulder injury and Marc Etherington was unavailable due to work commitments. A good sized travelling support welcomed Wild onto the ice.
The game opened in explosive style and Senator’s Joel Aheran and Wild’s Callum Ruddick both took roughing penalties in the 5th minute as Senators threw everything at the Widnes defence. Several outstanding saves from Greg Ruxton kept Sheffield at bay and at the other end Wild forced good saves from Mark Hartley as they attacked on the break. Widnes were trying to work off their ‘travel legs’.and both teams struggled to control possession.The first interval saw the teams locked goalless.
The second period opened with sustained pressure on the Sheffield net with our new boy, Ben Brown, particularly effective. However some slick work around the Wild net, saw Michael Mawer open the scoring for the Senators at 27.28. Within seconds,Widnes were back on level terms when Ben Brown and Ben Simister combined for Calum Ruddick to fire home. Just four minutes later Bobby Caunce and Andrew Clark opened up the Sheffield defence for Shaun Dippnall to score from close in and give Widnes the lead. The game was still finely balanced with both netminders working overtime to prevent further scoring.
The third period saw increasing Widnes pressure but Sheffield still posed a threat on the break. With the score seemingly locked on 2-1 and both netminders in top form, a bit of frustration saw Sheffield’s Cameron King clash with Wild’s #4 Dan Bracegirdle. The Widnes man appeared to get the better of his opponent and both were sent to the penalty bench. Almost immediately Bobby Caunce combined with Calum Ruddick for Ben Simister score the vital third goal at 51.29. It was still edge of the seat stuff and as tiredness crept in, errors occured at both ends. In a vain attempt to get back into the game, Sheffield withdrew their netminder Hartley to give them 6 skaters, leaving Bobby Caunce to show real composure and find the empty net to give Widnes a match winning 4-1 lead at 58.35.
This was a great advert for Laidler Conference hockey with two skilled and committed sides giving their all. Referees Steve Brown and Dave Emmerson kept close control of a hard fought game and allowed both teams to show their skills. Netminder Greg Ruxton took the MVP for the Wild for an outstanding display, saving 38 of the 39 shots faced.
Head Coach, Mark Gillingham was pleased with the all round efforts of the team and the discipline shown to gain this first victory of the season:
‘It’s obviously fantastic to get the club’s first win on the board, and I’m glad it came the way it did. We started slowly, and were nowhere near our best in the first period, so we had to show a lot of determination in the second and third to pull a result out of the bag. We came from behind too, after a Sheffield goal that was probably against the run of play at the time, which meant we really had to fight for the win. I think having to work so hard for it meant that bit more.
‘After the Deeside game, we knew we had to work hard on our defensive play, so going from conceding 10 goals a fortnight ago to conceding just one against Sheffield is really encouraging, and demonstrates how hard the lads are working to become the best team they possibly can. Although we didn’t score as many goals as we did in the two Deeside games, we absolutely dominated at times in the Sheffield end of the ice, to the point where we were keeping position in the Sheffield zone for full shifts, and would have probably had a few more goals if it wasn’t for (Senators’ goaltender) Mark Hartley.
‘Now that we’ve got that first win under our belts, we can’t afford to become complacent. The league is looking a lot closer this year, with any team capable of beating any other on their day, so if we stop working the way we have been doing in training we may not end up on the right end of the result in future games like this one. We want to be challenging the likes of Deeside and the other sides at the top of the table, so we need to put a little bit more effort in to avoid that complacency.’
The team face a double header weekend, travelling to face the Hull Stingrays on Saturday ( face off 5.00pm) and the following day travelling to the National Ice Centre to face Nottingham Lions ( face off 7.30pm.).