The RTL sponsored Widnes Wild moved up into second place in the Laidler Conference table after a hard fought 4-3 win over Sheffield Senators at Silver Blades Widnes on Sunday.
The result sees the Wild move to within 6 points of league leaders Blackburn Eagles with 10 games left to play in the season and puts them 2 points ahead of the Senators with whom they have been locked in a head to head battle for table positions in recent weeks.
Going into this game, the two teams were level on points and were only separated by results between them – with each having one win and the Senators slightly ahead overall by a one goal margin. There was added intrigue due to the fact that several Wild players had played for Sheffield teams in recent seasons and therefore knew the opposition rather well. True to form, the game was too close to call and, for the whole of the 60 minutes could easily have gone one way or the other.
The Wild – playing in their green warm up tops to avoid a colour clash with the Sheffield players who had arrived wearing a light silver grey strip (to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the current Sheffield Ice Hockey Club) instead of their usual dark blue – started at a tremendous pace and peppered the visitors’ goal with shots. Despite having superior overall possession in this opening phase, they failed to take full advantage of two early powerplay opportunities and then found themselves a man down for 4 minutes after big defenceman Andrew Turner was given a 2+2+10 penalty for holding and unsportsmanlike conduct.
Showing some class defending, that storm was weathered and the Wild continued to press for that all important opening goal but, despite chances at both ends, the opening period finished goal-less.
In fact, the first goal did not come until the 27th minute when Wild’s Karl Niamatali picked up a cross from team captain Shaun Dippnall and fired a furious shot from just inside the blue line into the top right hand corner of the Sheffield goal.
The advantage was almost doubled just 40 seconds later as Widnes were on the attack again. Tom Ratcliffe was bearing down on the Sheffield goal when he was scythed down from behind, sending him ploughing into the boards. The referee awarded a penalty shot which Ratcliffe hit straight at the netminder.
The game was very close throughout and Sheffield equalised on 35 minutes after a period of pressure saw a shot squeeze between Wild netminder Greg Ruxton’s skates and trickle across the goal line. The scores remained level for only 27 seconds – however – as, straight from the restart, the Wild pushed forward to try and regain the lead. Some fine passing between Nick Manning and Stuart Brittle behind the goal found its way to Player Coach Ollie Barron who was right in front of the crease and he was able to poke the puck home to put the Wild 2-1 up with a little over 4 minutes left in the second period. And there was still more drama to come. While the Wild were pushing up to try and extend their slender lead, Sheffield broke away and fired in another equaliser – meaning that the score was tied 2-2 at the second buzzer.
The Senators actually took the lead 7 minutes into the third period after another breakout from defence which saw Wild netminder Ruxton save the first shot, only to have his clearance drop into the path of another advancing Sheffield attacker who guided the puck round the ‘keeper and into the goal.
The home fans had to wait another 8 minutes before the Wild equalised – this time making the most of a powerplay where they were able put the Senators defence under great pressure and keep them penned in their own defensive zone – something that Widnes have had trouble doing in previous games. A pass in from Simon Offord on the blueline came to Ollie Barron wide on the left who fired in his second goal of the night to the delight of players and supporters alike.
However, there were still 10 minutes left to play and you could barely squeeze the proverbial cigarette paper between the two teams so everything was there to play for as the game entered it’s nail-biting, electrifying final phase.
The Wild winner came five minutes later and was the result of another impressive showing of organised and sustained pressure around the Sheffield bluezone. After an incredible number of un-intercepted passes, a hefty slapshot from Joe Gilbert on the point rebounded off the Senators’ netminder and fell to Nick Manning who fired it into the net.
The last five minutes were very tense as Sheffield upped their game in search of a late equaliser. Greg Ruxton made some heroic last-ditch saves – with and without his stick – and the Wild held on for an important victory.
The post-match awards were presented by the Mayor and Mayoress of Halton who were guests of honour at the game.
After the game, player coach Ollie Barron said:
“It was a good game of hockey from both teams and it felt good to be back on home ice. I was pleased with our work rate and determination last night – we created lots of good goal scoring opportunities, which was pleasing to see.
“It was a blow to be leading the game twice then to find ourselves down by one, but our heads didn’t drop, we kept working hard for each other and got rewarded with 2 goals in the third to win the game 4-3. I also thought Greg Ruxton played really well coming up big for us with some important saves.”
The RTL sponsored Widnes Wild are back at home again next Sunday 29th January when they face Nottingham Lions at Silver Blades Widnes in a 5.30pm face off.
Sunday 22nd January 2017 – Laidler Conference
Widnes Wild 4 – Sheffield Senators 3
Period Scores: 0-0, 2-2, 2-1
Shots On Goal: Widnes 58 – Sheffield 39 (24-11, 17-13, 17-15)
Penalties In Minutes: Widnes 16 – Sheffield 8
Widnes Scoring: Ollie Barron 2+0, Nick Manning 1+1, Karl Niamatali 1+0, Stuart Brittle 0+2, Shaun Dippnall , Simon Offord & Kieran Strangeway all 0+1
Report by Paul Breeze (www.icehockeyreview.co.uk)
Photos by Geoff White (www.gw-images.com)