The RTL sponsored Widnes Wild safely negotiated a potential Laidler Conference banana skin as they came back from the Midlands with a hard fought 2-3 win over Coventry Blaze on Saturday.
From a neutral’s point of view, this was a tremendously entertaining game of ice hockey – with lots of action, plenty of incident and a nail-biting finish – but, from a Widnes point of view, they probably should have put the game to bed much earlier and not had to try and hold on as they actually did.
The first period of the game went pretty much true to form, with second place Wild enjoying long periods of puck possession and bottom team Coventry on the back foot, defending well and looking to make the most of their breakaway opportunities.
The first goal came after just 7 ½ minutes when, after some excellent stick play from player coach Ollie Barron, the puck found its way to Bobby Caunce who duly slotted it into the back of the net.
The period ended 0-1 to the Wild with the Widnes team looking comfortably on top of things but there was still a long way to go in the game.
After just 3 minutes of the second period, Ollie Barron doubled the lead, picking up a Stuart Brittle pass and, 4 minutes later, it was 0-3 with Bobby Caunce firing in his second goal of the game.
Widnes looked to be cruising as the mid-point of the game approached and they changed netminder with Matt Croyle making way for Tom McDonald.
On 35 minutes, there the first major incident of the game as senior Coventry player Dale Buckland got involved in an altercation with Wild’s Tom Jackson. Widnes’ Mike Mawer also got dragged in and picked up a 2+2 for fighting with another Coventry player and Buckland was handed a match penalty for an abusive gesture towards the crowd. The result of all this was the Widnes ended up with a 5 minute powerplay opportunity and a great chance to build on their lead.
The Wild deluged the Coventry goal with shots but were unable to make a breakthrough and the second period ended with Widnes still – rather frustratingly – only leading 0-3.
Anybody expecting the third period to be a mere formality was about to have a very rude awakening as the Blaze team emerged from the dressing room with a renewed sense of purpose.
The home team were offered a lifeline after just 90 seconds of the period when, in an attempt to defend the Widnes goal, Wild’s Mike Mawer was adjudged to have covered the puck with his glove – something only the netminder is allowed to do.
The Blaze were awarded a penalty shot – which they duly scored – and this really seemed to ignite the game. Tensions began to rise and tempers flare as the home side sensed they were in with a chance of salvaging something from the match. On 45 minutes, Wild’s Kieran Strangeway took exception to a stray Coventry elbow and his retaliation was viewed by the referee as a check to the head and punished with a 2+10 minute banishment plus an additional game penalty for incitement.
In the aftermath of this, Coventry scored again to narrow the lead down to a single precarious goal and, with almost 14 minutes still to play, the Wild had a lot of work to do.
With just over 10 minutes to play, Wild’s Lee Kemp got involved in skirmish with a Coventry player that saw him handed a 2+2+2 penalty and it seemed as if the Blaze only needed to keep their heads and an equalising goal would surely follow.
As it turned out, they squandered their final powerplay opportunity and began picking up silly penalties themselves. This enabled the Wild to regroup and defend their lead and the score remained 2-3 at the final buzzer.
After the weekend’s other results, the Wild remain three points behind league leaders Blackburn Eagles, having played one game more. The top two meet in Blackburn this Saturday 4th March in what will be a crucial game for both teams. Widnes are then at home again for the first time in over a month the week after when they face Hull Jets on Sunday 12th March in a 5.30pm face-off game at Silver Blades Widnes.
After the game, player coach Ollie Barron said:
“2 points is what was needed and that’s what we got. It wasn’t a pretty game and credit to Coventry as they are much improved since the start of the season and they never stopped working for 60 minutes.”
“I was fairly happy with the first and second periods, we played some nice hockey and had all the play in Coventry’s zone. I felt the Blaze had the better of the play in the third but we managed to hold out and take the valuable points.”