The RTL sponsored Widnes Wild continued their impressive start to the new Laidler Division season with a dramatic 2-1 overtime win over north west rivals Altrincham Aces at Silver Blades Widnes on Sunday.
This highly anticipated top-of-the-table clash was played out in front of a huge crowd and was closely fought throughout as both teams set out to continue their winning starts to the season.
It was a special day all round as Wild netminder Greg Ruxton – who had been with the team since it first started in 2013 – was honoured on the ice before the game by having his number 64 shirt “retired” in a special ceremony. He stepped down from playing at the end of last season but will remain with Widnes as a coach and club ambassador.
As far as the game was concerned, there was very little to choose between the teams throughout and the play was fast and furious. Despite out-shooting the Aces by 20 to 9 during the first period, it took Widnes until the 15th minute to find the back of the net with player coach Ollie Barron finally managing to break the deadlock.
The Aces got themselves into terrible trouble in the first period and it is a testament to their solid defensive play that they managed to keep the Wild attack at bay for as long as they did. Things boiled over in the 16th minute when the Aces’ Joe Greaves got involved in an altercation with Wild’s Tom Jackson which was adjudged serious enough to see Greaves handed a match penalty, with Jackson picking up 2 minutes in the penalty box for his part.
The score remained 1-0 at the end of the first period and, in fact, was still 1-0 at the end of the second period as well. With relatively few penalties being handed out during this middle third, this was a fascinating and entertaining display of two teams at the top of their game playing end to end hockey with both netminders performing heroics in front of their goals to keep the score down.
The atmosphere around the rink was electrifying going into the third period with both teams still very much in contention. It was another attrition-laden period with first one team and then the other mounting attack after attack – each of which was successfully defended. Once again, the Wild had more chances but failed to put any of them away and the clock ticked slowly down.
With a little over 5 minutes left to play, the Aces picked up a 2 minute penalty for elbowing, which meant that, if the Wild could possibly take advantage of their extra man on the ice, they could put the game beyond any doubt. The situation backfired, however, as, with Widnes pushing forward on the powerplay, the Aces mounted a quick breakout and Cade King scored a shorthanded equaliser at 55.13 – interestingly enough, exactly 40 minutes to the second after the Wild’s opening goal.
The remaining minutes were tense with chances for both teams but buzzer sounded for the end of 60 minutes with the score tied at 1-1.
In a new initiative for this season, games no longer finish in a draw and are played on to determine a winner. An initial “overtime” period of 5 minutes is played with just three skaters on the ice for each team. The first team to score wins or, if neither team scores, the winner is then decided by a penalty shoot out.
With the game so finely balanced going into the overtime period, it is almost impossible to put into words how tense and exciting the atmosphere was around the Silver Blades rink with both sets of fans generating a huge amount of noise.
As with the rest of the game, there was little to choose between the teams and both had chances in front of goal. The breakthrough came, however, after two minutes and 1 second of overtime when Mikey Gilbert fired in the winning goal for the Wild and the rink erupted in a mixture of celebration and relief.
It was somewhat ironic that Gilbert should score the decider as he was lining up against his old team for the first time, having only joined the Wild from Altrincham in the summer after spending his whole playing career with the Manchester club.
The Wild take two points from the game as an “Overtime Win” meaning that they now have 7 wins – and 14 points – from their 7 starts this season. Altrincham receive one point for an “Overtime Loss” to reflect the fact that the game had actually finished as a draw after the regulation 60 minutes playing time.
Widnes now have a three-point lead over the Aces at the top of the Laidler Division table, although they have played one game more. Third place is currently occupied by Sheffield Senators who have 4 wins and one overtime loss from their 7 games to date and who are the Wild’s next opponents when they visit Silver Blades Widnes on Sunday 22nd October.
After the game Widnes player coach Ollie Barron said:
“A great game. I said to the players beforehand, these are the types of games we all want to play in, with two good teams leaving everything out on the ice. We know that Altrincham have a good roster and play hard and aggressively. We had to match the effort level and play our game and I think the game was a great advert for the league, in front of a big crowd.”
“Both netminders in Matt Croyle and Dec Ryan had great games, keeping the score to a minimum. I was pleased with our team’s determination and work rate and to take the win in overtime again shows we have the character in the squad this year.”
“We have had a great start to the season, but we know we must remain focussed and take one game at a time as we have some big fixtures coming up.”
“On a separate note, it was great to see such a big crowd supporting us this weekend. As always, thank you for the great support. Also: a special mention to Greg Ruxton and congratulations on the Shirt retirement. He is a great team-mate and it is truly deserved.”
After the game, Wild player coach Ollie Barron was presented with the NIHL Player of the Month award for September for the Laidler Division. This is new scheme introduced by the EIHA this season where the best individual player performances across all 4 divisions north and south are assessed by a panel of media experts and awards presented at the end of each month. The award for the Moralee Division for September went to Iain Bowie of Solway Sharks.
The Wild v Aces game was filmed by BASN for the “Drop The Puck” television programme. Extended highlights and post match interviews will be broadcast in their weekly show on the “Made In Liverpool” TV channel on Saturday morning at 11am.
While the Wild men’s team may not have a game this weekend, the Widnes Wild women’s team play their first Women’s Premier League game this Sunday 15th October. They take on Nottingham Vipers at Silver Blades Widnes and face off is at 5.30pm.
Sunday 8th October 2017 – NIHL North Division 2 (Laidler)
Widnes Wild 2 – Altrincham Aces 1 (Overtime Win)
Period Scores: 1-0, 0-0, 0-1, 1-0
Shots on Goal: Widnes 46 – Altrincham 28 (20-9, 12-11, 11-7, 3-1)
Penalties In Minutes: Widnes 12 – Altrincham 43
Widnes Scoring: Ollie Barron & Mikey Gilbert both 1+0, Stuart Brittle & Pavel Vales both 0+1
Match Officials: Tony Boynton – Referee, Leigh Hetherington – Linesman, Tadeusz Kolarz – Linesman
Photos by Geoff White (www.gw-images.com)
Match report by Paul Breeze (www.icehockeyreview.co.uk)