The RTL sponsored Widnes Wild face the most important game of their season so far this Sunday 2nd April when they take part in the NIHL North promotion game at the Silver Blades Blackburn Arena.
The Wild have qualified for the game by finishing second in the Laidler Conference table and they will face the team that finishes second from bottom in the Moralee Conference, with the winners playing in the North 1 division next season.
It is the third time in 3 seasons that Widnes have qualified for the promotion game, having lost 5-0 to Sheffield Spartans in a one-off game played at Blackburn last season and 20-5 on aggregate over two legs to Whitley Warriors in 2015.
The strange thing about Sunday’s game is that the opposition has not yet been decided and won’t be known until the day before – when Blackburn Hawks play Deeside Dragons in their last game of the Moralee season on Saturday evening.
This is a restaging of the league game between the two teams on 17th December that had to be abandoned after one period after the zamboni machine leaked hydraulic fluid on the ice and left the surface unplayable.
The Dragons are currently bottom of the Moralee table but if they beat the Hawks on Saturday, they will climb to second bottom in the table and feature in the play-off game. If they lose or draw the match, they will remain bottom of the table in the automatic relegation position and the ice-Sheffield based Sutton Sting will contest the play-off match instead.
The Dragons are, obviously, no strangers to Widnes fans as the two teams have been local rivals since the founding of the Wild and fought a fascinating battle for the Laidler title last year. There has been a lot of player movement between the two teams over the years and the Dragons are currently led by player coach Scott McKenzie who left Widnes last summer in rather unfortunate circumstances.
The Wild have never played Sutton before but current player coach Ollie Barron and his contingent of former Sheffield Spartans players will all know the Sting players very well – and they all have experience of winning a one-off promotion game as they were all part of the Sheffield team that beat the Wild last year!
Looking ahead to the promotion game, Barron said:
“On Sunday we are due to play in the promotion / relegation game in Blackburn. It’s difficult to judge the game as we won’t know the opposition until Saturday night and not ideal preparation for either team for such an important fixture.”
“All we can do is focus on our team’s strengths, play our game and give our all. We know it will be a difficult challenge playing a team from the higher division, but we will be ready to give 100% effort and work rate regardless of the opposition.”
The RTL sponsored Widnes Wild play in the NIHL North promotion / relegation play-off game at the Silver Blades Blackburn Arena next Sunday 2nd April. For more details about face off time and tickets, visit the official Widnes Wild website at www.widneswild.co.uk and keep up to date with the Facebook page and Twitter feeds.
Report by Paul Breeze (www.icehockeyreview.co.uk)
Photos by Geoff White (www.gw-images.com)