Shaun Dippnall was the Wild’s top points scorer in the Laidler Division with 29 goals and 30 assists (photo by Geoff White)
The YKK-sponsored Widnes Wild had a frustrating end to their Laidler Division season after the league competition was cut short and they were handed a fourth place finish in the table by an administrative decision.
Following the Wild’s last match – away to Deeside Dragons on 15th March – the English Ice Hockey Association announced that all competitive ice hockey was to be suspended for the remainder of the season, due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Whilst this move was perfectly sensible and fully in line with Government policy and the actions of most other spectator sports, it did leave open the question as to how the season would be finished off, bearing in mind that teams still had varying numbers of games left to play.
An emergency meeting of the EIHA decided that all unplayed games should be treated as 0 – 0 draws for administrative purposes and that neither team would receive any points for those games.
This decision was thought to be rather hard from the Wild’s point of view, sitting in third place in the table and still with three games left to play – against the bottom two teams Telford and Blackburn – and then a tantalising potential top of the table game against Hull Jets on the last day of the season. Based on the previous results against those teams, Widnes would have been confident of winning the first two games and giving Hull a run for their money as well, so to be handed “null points” for those three games was, to say the least, rather disappointing.
The situation was made even worse by a lack of consistency with the governing body’s decision making. At a separate league meeting, held before the decision to suspend the league had been made, there was a ruling regarding an outstanding game between Bradford Bulldogs and Hull Jets from December, for which a new date had not been found.
In this instance, the league decided to judge the game as a 0 – 0 draw but giving each team one league point. The fact that they didn’t apply the same ruling for the other unplayed games at the end of the season certainly left Widnes at some disadvantage. In effect, Hull and Bradford were being rewarded with a league point for a game that neither team intended to play, whereas Widnes at the same time were being penalised, despite having fixed dates in place for all their remaining games.
Because Bradford Bulldogs were also awarded two points for a forfeited game, when Telford cancelled at short notice, this meant that they received three additional points in the final league table, which elevated them into the runners up spot in the division, knocking Altrincham Aces down into third place and Widnes down into fourth.
Had all unplayed games instead seen one point awarded to each team, Widnes would have finished on 38 points – and not 35 – and they would have finished in second place, 3 points behind champions Hull.
The Wild club have lodged an appeal with the League against this decision but, as yet, no response has been forthcoming.
The end-of-season play offs featuring the top four teams in the Laidler Division will now not be taking place at Planet Ice Widnes as planned for the first weekend of April. There are, however, hopes that a tournament of some sort may be played later in the summer, once the threat of the virus has passed and ticket holders for the April weekend are asked to be patient as they will be contacted once further information is available.
Of the 25 games that the Wild have played in the Laidler Division 2019/2020 Season, they won 15 in regulation time, two in overtime, lost seven and lost one in overtime. They scored 138 goals and conceded 87.
The Wild’s leading points scorer for the season was Shaun Dippnall with 29 goals and 30 assists, who finished third overall in the league scoring standings. The second highest Widnes points scorer – 9th overall – was Czech import Jakub Hajek with 20 goals and 30 assists and in third place came Matt Tarpey with 19 + 9, which was a highly impressive achievement for the former roller hockey player who had never played on ice before the start of this season.
In line with government policy, the Planet Ice Rink at Widnes is now closed until further notice.