The YKK sponsored Widnes Wild have plenty to celebrate as they finish the calendar year top of the Laidler Division table with a commanding 9 point lead over second place Sheffield Senators, coming off the back of an unprecedented 14-game winning run.
The Wild attack is being led this season by Czech import player Jakub Hajek who joined Widnes from north west rivals Altrincham Aces during the summer and who is currently the Laidler Division’s top goal scorer with 25 goals from 19 games. Hajek played for his home town team of Jablonec in the Czech 3rd Division before joining the Aces, where he scored 26 goals in 29 games last season.
However, the Wild are far from being a one-man team and player coach Ollie Barron is Widnes’ second highest goalscorer with 19 goals from 19 games and Mikey Gilbert and Michal Novak (both 14 goals) and Danny Bullock (9 goals) have also made a huge contribution to the offensive unit this season. In terms of playmaking, Barron has the highest number of “assists” so far this season for the Wild with 25, Gilbert and Hajek have 20 each and team captain Simon Offord – a great steadying influence in defence – has 15.
The whole Wild defence this season has played especially well and another important part of that is netminder Matt Croyle. Croyle was the Laidler Division’s top netminder last season and is top of the standings again so far this time around. In the 18 games he has played in, he has faced an incredible 467 shots and let just 31 in – which means that he has saved 436 of them, giving him an impressive “Save Percentage” of 93.36%. Croyle also has two shut outs (clean sheets) to his name – from the 8-0 win away at Coventry back in October and the very tense 1-0 win away at Hull on 1st December.
Ice hockey is a game that can have a lots of goals in it so it is a credit to Croyle and his well marshalled defence that, apart from the 2-4 defeat away in Hull in early October and the highly dramatic 7-6 overtime win over Bradford Bulldogs in September – when back-up netminder Luke Wilson Owen was between the pipes, the Wild haven’t conceded more than 3 goals in any league game this season.
After the Christmas and New Year break, the Wild will resume their Laidler Division title campaign with away games against two teams in the bottom half of the table. They travel to Blackburn on Sunday 6th January to face the Hawks development team who have yet to get a point from 18 games this season and who have leaked an incredible 235 goals while scoring just 37.
The following Saturday – 12th January – Widnes travel to Coventry for the second time to play the NIHL Blaze team who they have beaten three times this season already and then the following day they have their first home game of 2019 against the Sheffield Senators.
That should be a fascinating game to watch as the Senators are currently second in the Laidler Division table and, depending on how other results go between then and now, that game could have a huge impact on the destination of the league championship for the 2018-19 season.