Wild’s Jakub Hajek scored two important goals in the Cup game against Blackburn Hawks on Sunday (Photo by Geoff White)
Sunday 24th November 2019: YKK Widnes Wild 5 – Blackburn Hawks 6 (OT), NIHL Midland Cup
The YKK-sponsored Widnes Wild put in a superb performance against higher league Blackburn Hawks at Planet Ice Widnes on Sunday in the NIHL Midland Cup, losing in the most dramatic fashion in ‘sudden-death’ overtime having led the game going into the last minute.
This was undoubtedly the best performance of the season so far from a Wild side who were seriously depleted due to injuries and player unavailability and before the game, given the widely accepted gulf in team budgets and playing standards between the two divisions, the smart money would probably have been on a comfortable Blackburn win.
As things turned out, it was an incredibly close-fought game from start to finish, with both teams playing highly entertaining, end-to-end hockey and the result remaining in doubt until the very last second.
Widnes took the lead in the 4th minute with a power play goal from Tom Jackson but the Hawks equalised 3 minutes later and, following a strike from former Wild player Lee Pollitt, were able to take a 1 – 2 lead into the first break.
The second period was even closer than the first, with both teams having lots of chances, but it took until 11 minutes in for the next breakthrough. Shaun Dippnall fired in a well-taken equaliser for the Wild and the rink erupted. While closely matching their lofty opponents in terms of puck possession and shots on goal, the Wild were unable to build upon this breakthrough and Blackburn re-established their lead on 36 minutes.
Before the game, most Widnes fans would have been over the moon at the thought of “only” trailing the Hawks Moralee Division team by a single goal at the end of the 2nd period but the truth of the matter is the Wild were putting in a superb performance and well and truly deserved to still be in contention at that point.
If the first two periods hadn’t been tense enough, the third period was surely a test for the strongest of nerves. Wild’s Jakub Hajek pulled Widnes level again, with a goal on 43 minutes but Blackburn struck back again just 60 seconds later, to edge 3 – 4 ahead.
However, Widnes heads did not drop at this setback and they pushed forward again. A second goal of the game for Shaun Dippnall on 47 minutes levelled the scores once again and then an incredible solo break-away goal from Jakub Hajek in the 50th minute put the Wild back into the lead.
A nerve-janglingly close 10 minutes ensued, with both teams having chances but neither managing to find the back of the net. The Wild called a time out with 1 minute 15 seconds left on the clock to discuss defensive contingencies and, with the score still 5 – 4 to Widnes as the game entered its last minute, Blackburn called a time out with just 37 seconds left to play.
The atmosphere around the rink was electric and the Hawks pulled their netminder off in favour of an extra attacking player. They piled pressure on the Widnes goal but unfortunately the plucky Wild defence were not able to hold out and the Hawks scored a dramatic equalising goal with just 18 seconds left on the clock.
The 5 – 5 draw after the regulation 60 minutes playing time meant that the game went into an extra period of ‘sudden death’ overtime. Here again, both teams had chances with Hajek clipping the crossbar for the Wild, before the game was finally settled with a goal from Blackburn’s Czech import Petr Valusiak after 1 minute 48 seconds of the overtime period.
While a defeat is always a disappointment, the Wild players can hold their heads up high after this superb display. It is practically unheard of for a Laidler Division team to beat a Moralee Division team in a competitive game and to have come to within 18 seconds of doing just that is a great achievement for the Widnes team.
The Wild receive 1 point for the 5 – 5 draw at the end of regulation time and that is the first competitive point they have ever won at home against a team from a higher division.
The MVP awards went to Petr Valusiak for Blackburn and Jakub Hajek for Widnes and were presented by match night volunteer Shannon Holt who was also celebrating her birthday at the weekend.
The Wild are next in action this Sunday 1st December when they take on Laidler Division league leaders Bradford Bulldogs at Planet Ice Widnes – 5.30 p.m. face off.