Wild import defenceman Pavel Vales (#26) celebrates his dramatic OT winning goal against Sutton Sting back in November 2017 (Photo by Geoff White)
The Widnes Wild team finished last season with 3 overseas players on their roster, after German forward Daniel Haid was signed in January as an extra imported player.
Haid was signed partially as cover while Michal Novak was getting over a long term injury and also to take some of the pressure off Jakub Hajek and allow Widnes the option to rotate their players in the run up to what was expected to be a thrilling title battle.
Unfortunately, things did not work out as planned as the league season was cancelled with several crunch games left to play – but not before Daniel had made an impact on the Laidler Division, scoring 7 goals and 6 assists in his first 11 league games.
Haid hails from Bietigheim in Germany and spent 4 seasons playing for the Chemnitz Crashers in the minor German leagues, scoring 24+37 in 55 league games. He has more recently been studying at Sheffield Hallam University where he played for the Sheffield Bears student team.
The 2019/20 season was certainly an odd one for the Wild team. It began with high hopes of retaining the league title that they had won the year before and also bagging their 4th play off title in a row – but all manner of things went wrong.
The team struggled for much of the season with key players out with long term injuries and playing lines often had to be cobbled together depending on who was available for each game. This saw leading scorer Hajek playing with different players from week to week and it was very creditable that he still managed to notch up 20 goals and 30 assists for the season.
Novak had a good pre-season, scoring 7 goals in 4 challenge matches but then missed much of the league campaign after picking up an injury. He managed to battle back to fitness and played 6 league games before the competition was curtailed, scoring 4+2.
Following on from the superb previous title winning season that had seen both Hajek and Novak in flying form, scoring 41+39 and 26+30 respectively, it was all a bit of a disappointment but such is the nature of ice hockey – you never know what is going to happen next!
Widnes have been lucky with their choices of import in previous seasons – and not so in others… Here’s a run down of previous overseas players to have iced for the Wild, starting at the very beginning.
Filip Supa (Seasons 2013/14 – 14/15)
Widnes Wild Record: 37 games, 22 goals, 42 assists, 72 Penalties In Minutes (PIM)
Filip Supa was the Wild’s first ever import signing, joining the team for the debut 2013/14 season. Having learned his hockey at the Topolcan club in his native Slovakia, playing over 100 competitive games at Under 18 and U20 Level, he then spent several years away from the game.
When the new Widnes rink opened, Supa was living in Warrington. He came along to the open player trials and was offered a place on the Wild team for their first season. He went to be top goal scorer for the season with 27 strikes in 22 games and returned for the following season, where he scored an incredible 55+25 in 34 leagues games.
Having been a huge favourite, with the Wild fans, Supa blotted his copybook somewhat by moving to join arch rivals Deeside Dragons for the 2015/16 season. He played in North Wales for two seasons and has most recently been icing for the Telford Tigers 2 team where he remains one of the top goalscorers.
Widnes Assistant Coach Richard Charles played with Supa in the Wild’s first ever season. He said of the Slovakian:
“He was a good hard working player with a real determination to dig deep offensively. He was a very quiet player but effective. A good goal scorer, he maybe just didn’t get the service he would have liked in that first season but he and Bobby Caunce eventually clicked very well and formed a powerful partnership. Given that he was the first import the club had, there was a lot of pressure on his shoulders and he relished the limelight and was a real fans favourite. He aspired to bigger things and ultimately that’s why he left.”
Pavel Vales (Seasons 2014/15 to 17/18)
Widnes Wild Record: 113 games, 20 goals, 61 assists, 68 PIM
Born in Brno in the Czech Republic, Pavel Vales was already living in Widnes when he came to the attention of the Wild club.
He had learned his junior hockey with the Karlovy Vary juniors teams and played some 240 competitive games at Under 16 and Under 18 level before graduating to play for Teknika Brno and Boskovice in the minor Czech leagues.
Aged just 22 when he joined the Wild, Vales played for Widnes for 4 seasons as an import defenceman, making 113 competitive appearances in the Laidler Division, Play Offs NIHL Cup.
He was a very solid and reliable player was widely considered as one of the best skating players in the league. He was part of the team that won the Laidler play off title in 2017 and again in 2018 and was named in the divisional All-Star Team for the 2016/17 season. In the 2017/18 season, Vales scored the most assists by a defenceman (25) in the division.
He sustained a serious facial injury in game away to Blackburn in the 2015/16 season and had to wear a strengthened full face mask after that to protect his face. While he continued to put in superb performances for the Wild for two more seasons afterwards, this obviously had a deep effect on him and he retired from playing at the end of the 2017/18 season.
Talking of Vales, Richard Charles said:
“Excellent hands, excellent skater, excellent player – he brought lots to the team both offensively and defensively and he could skate backwards faster than many could skate forward. His gap control as a defence man was exceptional and he wore his heart on his sleeve and did everything for the team to win. Again, very quiet, but he had a strong, controlled aggressive side to him. He was a fantastic passer and shooter of the puck, again very controlled.”
“Pavel reminded me of an old import, Jaroslav Lycka, who played for Dundee Rockets and then Lee Valley Lions. The incident at Blackburn really affected him. It was the most horrendous incident I have experienced in all my hockey career and he felt really let down in terms of support from the powers that be outside the club.”
“Had that not happened I personally think he would have played longer with us, possibly still with us. Although very quiet he was a great character within the team and when he did speak/comment he was very funny. He was also a joy to coach and to have him as part of coaching staff, particularly around the juniors would be a real asset to the club.”
Michal Fico (Seasons 2015/16 – 16/17)
Widnes Wild Record: 37 games, 22 goals, 42 assists, 72 Penalties In Minutes
Following the departure of fan favourite Filip Supa to local rivals Deeside Dragons in the summer of 2015, new Wild player coach Scott McKenzie offered the vacated import berth to Michal Fico. The Slovakian born forward was already known in Widnes as he had been playing for the Widnes Wildcats recreational team for the past two years.
Despite the obvious step up in playing standard and the fact that he had no prior league experience of any note in his home country, Fico had a good debut season in NIHL hockey, scoring 20 goals and 18 assists in 33 league and cup games and he re-signed for the following season under Ollie Barron.
Unfortunately, Fico suddenly upped and left Widnes after just one league game of the new season and joined Laidler Division rivals Blackburn Eagles. The Eagles went on to have a very good season – surprising many by winning the league title – although Fico’s contribution as their second import was only 5+24 in 22 league games.
Fico was last seen playing for the Deeside Dragons 2 team in the 2017/18 season where he was their top scorer with 20+16 in 24 games, although he got into serious penalty trouble at the end of the season and has not played competitive hockey since.
Richard Charles said of Fico:
“He had ability but didn’t really stand out over the home grown players in the team, as an import should, in my opinion. He was hard working, but would get very frustrated at times if things weren’t quite going his way. He had a number of run-ins with team-mates in training, but that didn’t worry me, as it just showed his determination to win the puck.”
“He was always in the shadow of Supa which, I think, affected him. Because of all that he wasn’t really a team player, more of an individual.”
Elvis Veldze (Season 2017/18)
Widnes Wild Record: 8 games, 11 goals, 2 assists, 4 PIM
At the time of his signing in the summer of 2017, Elvis Veldze was the only import to arrive at Widnes with any sort of NIHL playing record behind him, having previously played a season for the Fylde Flyers, scoring 35+21 in 30 league games.
The arrival of the 6’5” former Latvia Under 21 international player caused quite a lot of excitement around the club but it was to be short lived. After scoring an impressive hat trick in his first game – an 8-3 preseason win over Bristol Pitbulls – Veldze found his work commitments made it difficult for him to get to training and games and he only managed to make 7 appearances in the league, adding 8+2 to his scoring tally.