MATCH REPORT: Wild 5 – 1 Eagles

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League Ice hockey finally arrived in Widnes with a visit from North West rivals, Blackburn Eagles.

Despite the counter attraction of the New Zealand v. Samoa Rugby League World Cup game just down the road, a sizeable crowd welcomed the teams onto the ice. Wild were again understrength with netminder Greg Ruxton injured in the week, Kurtis Hall in America and leading scorers Andy Clark and Shaun Dippnall unavailable. The home team were boosted by the signing of defenceman Chad Briggs, the former Swindon Wildcats and Blackburn Hawks player.

The game opened at a furious pace with Widnes mounting wave after wave of attack on the Blackburn goal. Eagles netminder Nick Saxton made a number of close range saves before Widnes opened the scoring in the 3rd minute. With Blackburn serving a penalty, good work from Chris Preston and Troy Evans created an opening for new boy Briggs to fire home to Saxton’s left. It looked like the start of a rout that never materialised. Despite constant pressure on the Blackburn goal, it was the 14th minute before Widnes increased their lead. With Widnes serving a minor penalty,Blackburn mounted a sustained attack. The puck was pushed clear and Wild forward Ken Armstrong raced the length of the ice to fire low between Saxton’s legs to give Widnes a two goal lead. There were no further goals in the period but the Widnes superiority could be measured by a shot count of 26 – 7 in favour of the home team.

The 2nd period was most productive for Wild, producing three goals in the opening twelve minutes of the period. The first came from import star Filip Supa, assisted by Ben Simister and Troy Evans. Ben Brown added another in the 28th minute from a Supa pass. Perhaps the most spectacular came in the 32nd minute when Ken Armstrong set up big Tony Melbourne for a powerful shot, which was tipped in past Nick Saxton by Chris Preston. After the scoring burst, Blackburn enjoyed some territorial advantage but Steve Gilmartin in the Widnes net made a series of timely saves, to keep them at bay. The home side seemed destined to add to their goal total as the second interval approached.

The final period was in complete contrast to the previous two. Widnes seemed to lose their sense of purpose and it came as no surprise when, in the 44th minute, Blackburn’s Steven Hetherington shot the puck into the net through a crowd of players. In an error strewn period, both sides struggled to keep control of the puck and Widnes were unable to use their experience and numerical bench strength. They were frustrated by a workmanlike Blackburn side during a period characterised by niggling and unnecceasary penalties.

Despite two valuable league points and moving a place up the league table, Wild’s inablity to better use home advantage frustrated Head Coach, Mark Gillingham.

‘We really struggled to get into situation where we could play our own game at any point during the match, and we found it frustrating trying to break Blackburn down. The Eagles were certainly a stronger side than they have been for the past two season, and although we were creating a lot of pressure in their end of the ice, they absorbed it well and that gave them a chance to hit us on the break. At times we looked a bit cocky, and we were taking penalties we wouldn’t normally take for whatever reason, when really we should have treating our opponents in the same fashion we had treated all the other teams we’d played already this season. I appreciate that we picked up the win, and I was thankful to because Blackburn worked really hard and stuck to their guns, but we should have the mental discipline to maintain pressure when we get the opportunity in order to see teams off, because they’d do the same to us.’

The team are on the road again next Sunday, when they pay a return visit to Coventry, for a 20.15 face off. They return to Widnes on Sunday November 10th,when reigning champions Nottingham Lions are the visitors. The club will be looking to further improve upon Sunday’s encouraging attendance.