Following the postponement of Saturday night’s game in Hull, Wild returned to home ice for Sunday night’s game against the Bradford Bulldogs. The previous evening, Bradford had caused one of the season’s upsets to date, holding title contenders Deeside Dragons to a 5 – 5 draw. Widnes were without Pavel Vales, Ken Armstrong and Ben Brown.
The game opened at a furious pace with Widnes hitting the post in the first minute. Constant Wild pressure saw Bowater, in the Bradford net, make a good save from an angled shot and the visitors down to four skaters as Stones took a minor penalty for slashing. Young Josh Benstead in the Widnes goal took an interference penalty at 4.41, which seemed to spur the home side. Kieron penalty fired in a booming shot from the blue line before player coach Scott McKenzie skated clear to put Widnes 1- 0 ahead at 6.33. A debateable minor penalty for delaying the game against Wild’s Kieron Strangeway at 9.30 prompted a period of Bradford pressure. Shaun Dipnall just failed to force a well measured Mc Kenzie pass round Bowater at 13.05 before Fico and Mc Kenzie saw powerful shots blocked by the Bradford netminder. In an end to end contest, Benstead blocked a Bradford shot at full stretch only to see Stefan Pristas force home the rebound for a Bradford equaliser at 16.03. As the period drew to a close Cassidy, Fico and Kemp all forced excellent saves from the Bradford netminder.
Scott McKenzie was proving a real handful for Bradford for whom Corey Stones took an interference penalty at 21.08. It was soon back to even strength as Shaun Dipnall took two minutes for hooking at 21.43. Both teams looked dangerous on the breakaway but when Mc Kenzie cut in from the left, Bowater blocked the shot only to see the rebound fired home by the player coach to give Wild a 2 – 1 lead at 25.51. The remainder of the second period saw long spells of Wild dominance with Bradford’s Bowater forced to make a string of tremendous stops from McKenzie, Fico, Crawshaw and Preston. The young Bradford netminder made a remarkable save from Preston at 29.54. Within minutes McKenzie had rattled the pipes and good interpassing from the Widnes forwards culminated in a series of powerful shots raining in on the visitors net. Bowater was up to the challenge however, foiling the Wild attack as they looked to extend the lead. He could do little though when a Tom Jackson pass from defence saw Scott Mc Kenzie skate clear,beating Bowater inside his left hand post for a hat trick goal and giving Wild a 3 – 1 lead. Almost on the buzzer Scott Mc Kenzie and Macauley Stones exchanged words close to the boards, leading to both teams scuffling. Blows were exchanged with McKenzie and Bradford’s Stones and Hutchinson receiving minor penalties.
The game looked finely balanced despite some territorial advantage for the home side. However as the final period opened, Wild gained a decisive advantage at 40.41, Calum Ruddick finding space and hitting a well placed shot inside the left hand post to give Wild the 4 -1 lead they never looked like losing. Tiredness became apparent in Bradford legs and Wild tightened their grip, with Preston, Bullock and Fico all stepping up a gear. At 47.54 the lead was extended when young George Crawshaw fed on to McKenzie and the leading scorer beat Bowater – 5 -1. Within minutes it was 6 -1 – McKenzie feeding the onrushing Dipnall who finished cleverly. After Bradford saw Macauley Stones serving a 2+ 10 penalty for a check to the head, further Wild pressure saw a searching cross ice pass find Calum Ruddick and the big defenceman lifting a powerful wrist shot high into the net, for a seventh Widnes goal at 55.47.
With the game effectively over as a contest and both teams showing signs of fatigue, Widnes were indecisive behind their own net and disappointingly conceded a consolation goal to Bulldog’s Shannon Lingwood, with just eight seconds remaining. A hardworking performance from a slightly understrength Wild, brought a victory over an ever improving Bulldogs. Hopefully it will give the team confidence for the eagerly awaited return meeting with local rivals Deeside Dragons at the Deeside Leisure Centre on Saturday evening f.o. 19.10. A big travelling support is expected to cheer on the Wild in a clash of title contenders.
MVP for the Wild was Josh Benstead who stopped an incredible 38 of the 40 shots he faced.
Reporter: Dick Gillingham