The RTL sponsored Widnes Wild pulled off a dramatic fight-back to beat north-west rivals Altrincham Aces 7-5 in their penultimate Laidler Conference game of the season at Silver Blades Widnes on Sunday night.
Midway through the second period, the Wild found themselves trailing by 2 goals to 5 and looking distinctly ragged but a brave fight-back saw them score 5 unanswered goals to secure local bragging rights for the season and put a huge dent in the Aces’ play-off hopes.
Altrincham had arrived in Widnes on the back of a sensational win away at champions Blackburn Eagles the night before and knew that a win over the Wild – who had already secured the runners up position in the league – would help their late surge for the fourth and final play-off place. The Silver Blades rink was packed and the Aces had brought a sizeable and very vocal support – boosted by a contingent of Manchester Storm fans.
The game started off at a very quick tempo with Widnes looking good in the early stages. However, it was the Aces who scored the first goal in the 8th minute as a Wild attack broke down and an Aces player skated the length of the ice and slotted the puck past Greg Ruxton in the Widnes goal.
The Wild came back strongly after this early setback – and narrowly outshot the Aces overall in the first period – but they were unable to make any sort of breakthrough and the score remained 0-1 at the first break.
The Wild came out with the intention of making an early strike to get themselves back into and, in fact, hit the post within 2 minutes of the restart. However it was the Aces who scored again after 25 minutes, as the Wild overstretched and left space at the back. The defence was overwhelmed and an Aces player was able to shoot from close range to put the puck past the Widnes netminder and make it 0-2.
Unlike the first goal, the Widnes response to this was immediate – 46 seconds to be exact. A good bit of skating from Stuart Brittle got him in an excellent position. He passed in front of goal to player coach Ollie Barron who fired in the Wild’s first goal of the game.
With both teams keen to take the initiative, there was a lot of up and down play with little to show for it and then, suddenly, the most incredibly 5 minutes of ice hockey seen this season at Widnes came to pass.
The Wild were having trouble getting the puck out of their defensive zone and Aces’ veteran campaigner Brian Worrall fired in a long shot from just inside the blue line to make the score 1-3 (time: 29.56).
Less than a minute later (30.55) the Wild pulled a goal back as Simon Offord picked up on a Stuart Brittle pass and fired in a shot in an almost carbon copy of Ollie Barron’s opening goal – 2-3.
A little over 2 minutes later (32.22), the Aces picked up a lucky goal when a shot/pass from Ace’s John Murray took a freak ricochet off Greg Ruxton’s skate and ended up in the back of the Widnes net – 2-4.
Then, 40 seconds after that (33.02) another bit of fortune came Altrincham’s way as another Aces goal sneaked in off Ruxton’s stick. The score was 2-5 to the visitors and the Wild looked down and out.
However the game changed completely at this point. The Widnes bench made a tactical decision to change netminder and Matt Croyle came on in place of Ruxton. The brief stoppage seemed to stall the Aces’ momentum and allowed Widnes a chance to reorganise.
Within 30 seconds of the puck dropping again, the Wild had stopped the rot with a goal of their own and this one also involved a little bit of luck.
A great defensive clearance by Pavel Vales found Nick Manning who took the puck up wide on the right. A challenge from a diving Aces player actually slowed down his run just enough to fox the rest of the defence and Manning somehow managed to pass the puck – backhand – though his own legs to make a pass at a very narrow angle across the goal. This was turned in by an Altrincham player who was desperately trying to guide the puck away from the goal. Although the goal was actually scored by an Aces player, it was credited to Manning as there is no such thing as an “own goal” in ice hockey – it is always awarded to the last attacking player to have touched the puck – 3-5!
The recovery continued two minutes later (35.39) as Berwyn Hughes edged in from his point position on the blue line to fire in a fierce slapshot – 4-5
It now looked as Widnes would score at any moment and, with just over a minute left of the period they were gifted a powerplay opportunity as an Altrincham player was called for tripping. Interestingly enough, this was the only penalty that the Aces conceded all game and, with Widnes only picking up 6 minutes themselves overall, the total of just 8 minutes awarded was surprisingly low for such a close fought and passionately contested game!
Despite the Wild having numerous chances during that last minute of period, the score remained tantalisingly close at 4-5 at the second break and both teams went to the dressing room for a well-earned rest.
Widnes came out for the final period visibly fired up and they set out to make the most of the remaining minute of their man advantage on the ice. As it turned out, the equaliser came with just 1 second left of the powerplay and came from Ollie Barron who fired in a pass from Nick Manning (5-5).
The Aces players looked deflated by this point and, while they continued to battle throughout the final period, it became increasingly obvious that it wasn’t going to be their night.
A sizzling slapshot from Czech defenceman Pavel Vales glanced off the stick of Ollie Barron and flew into the goal to finally give Widnes the lead after 43 minutes of the game (6-5).
And a seventh goal for the home side – the second of the night for Nick Manning, with just over 3 minutes left to play – looked to have sewn the game up. But there was still a little drama to come.
With just 28 seconds left on the clock, Widnes picked up a roughing penalty which would leave them shorthanded for the rest of the game. Altrincham called a 30 second time-out and must have discussed pulling their netminder in favour of an extra attacker to try and force something in the dying seconds. As it turned out, the Aces netminder stayed in place and no further incident occurred in the match.
After the game, Widnes player coach Ollie Barron said:
“That game really had it all. We knew it was going to be a difficult battle – Altrincham have been in great form and, with their win on Saturday night in Blackburn, we knew the Aces would be full of confidence going into the game.”
“The game started off at a fast pace and, although we were trailing 1-0 at the end of the first, I thought we had played some good spells of hockey and had a large amount of possession. The second period didn’t exactly go to plan, with the Aces capitalising on our errors and taking a 5-2 lead.”
“What was very pleasing to see was the fight and character we showed to bounce back and not let up. I was impressed with our attitude and determination to turn the game around.”
The resulting two points meant that Widnes Wild moved to within three points of league champions Blackburn Eagles – who lost away at Nottingham Lions the same night – although, as both teams only have one game left to play, they are unable to catch them. The Lions’ win, however, put them back ahead of Altrincham in the chase for the last play-off place and the Aces still need positive results from their remaining games to have a chance of overtaking them.
The RTL sponsored Widnes Wild host Bradford Bulldogs for their final league game of the season this Sunday 26th March at Silver Blades Widnes. Face off is at 5.30pm and doors open at 4.45 (don’t forget to change your clocks!).
Sunday 19th March 2016 – Laidler Conference
Widnes Wild 7 – Altrincham Aces 5
Period Scores: 0-1, 4-4, 3-0
Shots On Goal: Widnes 53 – Altrincham 26 (15-13, 18-7, 20-6)
Penalty Minutes: Widnes 6 – Altrincham 2
Widnes Scoring: Ollie Barron 3+0, Nick Manning 2+2, Simon Offord 1+3, Bez Hughes 1+0, Pavel Vales 0+2, Danny Bullock, Karl Niamatali % Kieran Strangeway all 0+1
Match report by Paul Breeze (www.icehockeyreview.co.uk)
Photos by Geoff White (www.gw-images.com)