At the midway point of their 2018/19 Laidler Division campaign, the YKK sponsored Widnes Wild sit 5 points clear at the top of the league table following a dazzling and dramatic 4 point weekend that saw them win 0-1 away at Hull on Saturday and then 8-3 at home to Coventry at Planet Ice Widnes on Sunday.
The game away at Hull was always going to be a close encounter. The two teams had met just 6 days earlier in Widnes and there was little to choose between them for much of the game and the Wild were quite fortunate to pick up a 3-1 win on that occasion.
This game was even closer – with both teams very evenly matched in terms of possession and shots on goal – and both netminders making amazing saves throughout – which saw them both being named Most Valuable Player at the end of the game for their respective teams.
A 1-0 win is incredibly rare in ice hockey – certainly in British ice hockey – and is an excrutiatingly tense affair. The longer the game goes on without a goal, the higher the tension is racked up. Then, a goal goes in – the tension is relieved briefly but then another kind of tension kicks in. It need only take a matter of seconds for the puck to travel from one end of the ice to the other and for a goal to be scored or conceded and there is no room for error. If you are the defending team, you need to try and keep the opposition at bay and protect your lead and obviously, if you are the chasing team you desperately need to try and force an equaliser.
The breakthrough in this game came on 26 minutes, with the Wild slightly ahead on shots on goal, when player coach Ollie Barron and Stuart Brittle combined behind the Hull goal to tie up some Jets defenders and sneak a pass through to Widnes’ Czech import Jakub Hajek who was bearing in on net. He forced his way between the two more Hull players and managed to slot the puck past the Hull netminder to score what would turn out to be the only goal of the game.
Both teams had their chances but, with both netminders in such fine form, the game remained close to the end and, the closer the clock ticked down to 60 minutes, the tenser it became. Both teams called time-outs in the final minutes to discuss last ditch tactics and disrupt the oppositions’ plans but the final period – like the first – remained goal-less and the Wild came away with a crucial 0-1 victory over potential title rivals.
The game on Sunday was also a tense one but for completely different reasons and Wild team and their supporters had to endure a rollercoaster ride of emotions in a battling game against a well –organised Coventry team.
Games against Coventry are always difficult but, in recent seasons, the Wild have come out on top in all of their encounters. This game, however, started badly for the Wild with the Blaze taking the lead after just 3 minutes and the score remained 0-1 at the first break.
Mikey Gilbert levelled for Widnes on 24 minutes but the Blaze were having a very good second period – during which they out-shot their hosts by 16 to 9 – and they added two more goals within 62 seconds of each other on the half way mark to take a shock 1-3 lead.
The Wild regrouped and managed to bounce back with a quickfire goal spree of their own that saw strikes from Ollie Barron, Simon Offord and Michal Novak all score in the space of 61 seconds to turn the game completely on its head and hand Widnes a 4-3 lead at the end of the second period.
The third period was “entertaining” rather than “dramatic” as, once the Wild had edged in front they stayed there and steadily extended the lead with a goal from Lee Kemp on 42 minutes and then a hat trick from Jakub Hajek on 52, 57 and 59 minutes.
There was a bit of “old time hockey” for the crowd to cheer on when a mass fight broke out in the middle of the ice – in reality, more of a letting off of steam rather than anything nasty – and saw players from both teams – 7 in all – subsequently squeeze into the penalty box for 2+2 minutes each.
The game finished 8-3 to the Wild which, coupled with defeats for Sheffield Senators and Telford Tigers, puts a glimpse of daylight between Widnes and the chasing pack as they embark on the second half of their Laidler Division season.
Looking back over the weekend, Widnes player/coach Ollie Barron said:
“This was a hard-fought weekend for the Wild. Saturday’s game was a close and hard-fought 1-0 win. I felt after the first period we were the better team with the better chances, while limiting Hull to long range efforts, or shots from wide. Our defensive display was very pleasing and we were rewarded for our hard work with 2 vital points.”
“On Sunday we welcomed the Blaze of Coventry. Every time we have played Coventry, I have been impressed with how hard they work. I felt we looked a little tired in the first period, but continued to put the effort in and, to come back from 3-1 down with 7 unanswered goals, I couldn’t have asked for a better response. I’m proud of all the team after a tough weekend of hockey.”
“We now turn our attention to the Aces game on Sunday. While Altrincham haven’t had the results they would have liked recently, we know it will be a difficult game in their rink – so we must be prepared to battle for a full 60 minutes.”
“I thought our home fans played a huge part in our win on Sunday night. They really spurred us on to keep fighting and battling. Thank you wildones, I hope as many of you as possible can make the trip Sunday to cheer us on.”
The Wild are away to Altrincham Aces next Sunday 9th December and then to Bradford Bulldogs on Saturday 15th before their next home game which is on Sunday 16th December – also against Bradford.
During the first period break of the home game against Coventry, the Wild staged their annual “teddy toss” where fans were invited to throw soft toys onto the ice to be collected up and distributed to sick children who are in hospital over the festive period and to other worthy causes.
Main club sponsors YKK also held a collection among staff at their premises in Runcorn and representatives attended the game to hand over the donations.
For anybody not travelling to watch the Wild away at Altrincham, the Widnes Wild women’s team have their first home game of the season in the Women’s Premier League at Planet Ice Widnes on Sunday. They play the Whitley Bay Squaws and face off is at 5.30pm.
The Widnes Wild Academy Under 13 team continued their first season of competitive ice hockey with a 14-2 defeat away to Nottingham on Sunday. The Wild goals were scored by team captain Aidan Lamb – his 4th in 5 games – and Cody Ogden.
The Academy Under 15 team are at home this Saturday 8th December when they take on the Blackburn Under 15 team at Planet ice Widnes. Face off is at 6.50pm and admission is free.
Saturday 1st December 2018 – Laidler Division
Hull Jets 0 – Widnes Wild 1
Period Scores: 0-0, 0-1, 0-0
Shots on Goal: Hull 36 – Widnes 41 (14-15, 12-16, 10-10)
Penalties In Minutes: Hull 8 – Widnes 10
Widnes Scoring: Jakub Hajek 1+0, Ollie Barron 0+1
Match Officials: Juris Susters – Referee, Simon Clark & Joe Sewell – Linesman
MVPs: Widnes – Matt Croyle / Hull – Dean Bowater
Sunday 2nd December 2018 – Laidler Division
Widnes Wild 8 – Coventry NIHL Blaze 3
Period Scores: 0-1, 4-2, 4-0
Shots on Goal: Widnes 33 – Coventry 30 (8-10, 9-16, 16-4)
Penalties In Minutes: Widnes 59 – Coventry 34
Widnes Scoring: Jakub Hajek 3+0, Ollie Barron 1+2, Lee Kemp, Mikey Gilbert, Simon Offord and Michal Novak all 1+1, Stuart Brittle 0+4, Danny Bullock, Tom Jackson & Shaun Dippnall all 0+1
Match Officials: Ray Ormes – Referee, Chris Lutz & Daniel Rees – Linesman
MVPs: Widnes – Michal Novak / Coventry – Daniel Mulcahy
Match report by Paul Breeze – www.icehockeyreview.co.uk
Photos by Geoff White – www.gw-images.com
NIHL North Laidler Division Table
(includes games up to 3rd December 2018)
|5||Telford Tigers 2||14||7||0||3||4||331||62||47||17|
|9||Blackburn Hawks 2||15||0||0||0||15||237||31||203||0|
Key: OTW = Overtime Win (2 points)
OTL = Overtime Loss (1 point)
PIM = Penalties In Minutes