The RTL sponsored Widnes Wild moved to within one point of second place in the Laidler Conference table with a hard fought, yet well-disciplined, 8-4 victory over Nottingham Lions in the “Battle of the Big Cats” at Silver Blades Widnes on Sunday.
The result was most welcome as, having led for the most of the game in the fixture away at Nottingham 2 weeks ago, Widnes were eventually pegged back with just five minutes left to go and eventually lost out 4-2.
This game started very well indeed for the Widnes team as they built up a two goal lead. The first came from a ferocious blue line shot from import defenceman Pavel Vales on 7 minutes and the second from Stuart Brittle who zigzagged through the Lions defence to fire home a splendid shorthanded effort on 14 minutes.
Any hopes that this might be an “easy” game were quickly dashed, however, as an undaunted Nottingham struck back with a powerplay goal less than a minute later and then drew level in dramatic fashion with another strike just 26 seconds after that.
Having seen their 2 goal lead disappear, Widnes were on the rack for the remainder of the first period and it looked as if Nottingham might score again at any moment. Then, with one minute left to play, Stuart Brittle broke out and was homing in on the Lions’ goal when he was brought down by a Nottingham defender. The referee awarded a penalty shot – a comparatively rare occurrence in ice hockey – which, if successful would have given Widnes a slender lead going into the break but, after some impressive stick work in the run up, Brittle fired the puck straight at the netminder and the scores remained finely balanced after 20 minutes.
The second period was incredibly tense and closely contested and the game could easily have gone either way as both teams battled but neither managed to force a breakthrough. Approaching the mid-way point it was still 2-2 and then Nick Manning fired the Wild ahead. Less than 2 minutes later, player coach Ollie Barron doubled the lead once again and it just looked as if Widnes might start to pull away.
But the Lions battled back and scored a powerplay goal within 60 seconds of the restart – but Danny Bullock then scored for the Wild on 36 minutes to restore the 2-goal cushion leaving the scores at a rather shaky-looking 5-3 heading into the final period.
Widnes nerves were settled almost immediately after the restart, however, as recent signing Simon Offord scored his first goal for his new club with just 55 seconds elapsed in the final third to make it 6-3. Another Lions strike in the 44th minute kept the home side on their toes – and the home crowd on the edge of their seats – but then 2 more goals finally sealed the match for the Wild.
The first came from Danny Bullock – a lovely 1-2 where he skated round the back the net to collect from Offord and score his second of the night – and then Tom Ratcliffe well and truly muted the Lions’ roar as he rounded off the scoring with a fierce blueline slapshot 6 minutes from time.
The game was played in good spirit throughout and the relatively low number of penalty minutes awarded for such a closely contested match is great testament to both teams.
Speaking after the game, Wild player coach Ollie Barron said: “It was a great battle. Nottingham are a good team – they work hard for each other all over the ice as we knew from our recent away game and we knew we had to be on form to compete against the Lions. The game started quite slowly for us, taking a couple of penalties to put us on the back foot, but we stayed strong and took a two goal lead. It was disappointing to let the Lions back into the game at 2-2 at the end of the first. “
Although we went into the second period on level terms, I still felt we had another gear in us to get things going. I was happy with the response and teamwork to come out of the game 8-4 victors.”
We have hit some good form recently and morale is high within the group. There were some great individual performances and I feel Stuart Brittle has stepped up his game in recent weeks, scoring some important goals for us.”
Also, Danny Bullock has been working hard in training and it is showing in games. Our defensive unit also looks more stable with the addition of Simon Offord bringing in some experience; this is only going to help the whole group.”
The result sees Widnes close up to just one point behind second place Sheffield Senators with both teams having now played the same number of games. Wild still have to play the Senators home and away again this season and the next meeting between the two teams will be Widnes’ first home game of the New Year on Sunday 22nd January 2017 at Silver Blades Widnes.
Sunday 11th December 2016 – Laidler Conference
Widnes Wild 8 – Nottingham Lions 4
Period Scores: 2-2, 3-1, 3-1
Shots on Goal: Widnes 45 – Nottm 36 (18-9, 15-12, 12-15)
Penalties in Minutes: Widnes 12 – Nottm 10
Widnes Scoring: Bullock 2+1, Manning 1+4, Offord 1+3, Brittle 1+2, O Barron 1+1, Vales & Ratcliffe 1+0, Dippnall 0+2
Photo: Simon Offord scores his first goal for the Wild (Geoff White – www.gw-images.com)
Match report by Paul Breeze (www.icehockeyreview.co.uk)