Review of 2021 – And A Look Ahead To 2022

YKK Widnes Wild Team Photo – Season 2021/22
Back Row: Louis Rosslyn (Eqp Mgr), Wez Spurrett (General Manager) Tom McDonald (Netminding Coach), Keiron Furlong, Ken Armstrong, Dani Haid, Chris Wilcox, Tristan Grimshaw, Tom Stubley, Vlads Vulkanovs, Lee Kemp, Jay Robinson, Jakub Hajek, Joe Greaves, Joe Wyatt, Liam Charnock, Cain Taylor, Ben Larnach (Physio), Bob Bramah (Head Physio), Nigel Thorpe (Physio), Megan Hughes (Physio). Front Row: Evan Coles, Tom Brierley, Nathan Britton, Mikey Gilbert, Tom Jackson, Harrison Walker, Richard Haggar (Player Coach), Bez Hughes, Kieran Beach, Jack Murray, Oliver Goodman. 


The YKK sponsored Widnes Wild finish the calendar year of 2021 in their highest ever league position – 3rd in the NIHL North Moralee Division.

It’s a great achievement for player coach Richard Haggar’s new look team, especially bearing in mind that, this time last year, most ice rinks were closed across the country and all organised indoor sport was effectively banned due to the coronavirus lockdown measures.

However with the introduction of vaccination programmes, better testing procedures and other enhanced Covid safety measures, the green shoots began to appear in the spring and competitive ice hockey was allowed to return – albeit under very stringent conditions.

The Wild effectively had to move up a division in order to qualify for the English Ice Hockey Associations’s new definition of “Elite Status” and had to appoint a designated COVID officer who tested everybody before they were allowed to enter the ice rink.

The games had to be played behind closed doors – with no spectators permitted – and this meant that there was no gate money coming in, which all ice hockey clubs rely on to be able to operate..

In order to offset the huge costs involved in paying for match officials and ice time, a government grant was made available to participating clubs and the Wild appointed former fan favourite Ollie Barron as player coach for a special series of games for the NIHL North Cup.

Teams from the EIHA National Division held their own 4 team competition – as did teams from the NIHL South and the Elite League also ended up playing a 4-team spring series of games.

In order to keep the fans involved and in some cases, generate some revenue, these games were all streamed live via the internet. Some teams in the National Division had already been doing this – and Nottingham Lions had been streaming their NIHL Moralee Division games for a while – but for most other teams this was a new opportunity to make the most of the new technology on offer and to get the message out about their clubs.

Because most of the Elite League and NIHL teams were not playing back in Spring 2021, this allowed the teams that were taking part in these competitions to sign players of a higher calibre who wouldn’t normally be available to them and this gave the ice hockey an even more competitive edge than normal.

The NIHL North cup saw the new look Widnes team playing home and away against Sheffield Scimitars, Nottingham Lions and local rivals Blackburn Hawks. They won 4 of their 6 games to finish ahead of Blackburn to top the four-team group and win the trophy.

Ollie Barron stepped down after that series and was replaced by former Hull Jets sniper Richard Haggar who had originally joined the Wild for some match practice while his home rink was closed.

Haggar was then tasked with putting together a new squad to take part in the Three Rivers Tournament which would see Widnes play an 8 match series against Sheffield and Nottingham – meeting each team twice at home and twice away.

This was another highly entertaining competition – once again played “behind closed doors” – and, once again, it saw numerous “guest players” turning out for the three teams involved.

The Wild only managed to win 3 of their 8 games and finished second to Sheffield in the competition, but it was enough to see them qualify for a hastily arranged National Play Off against the top teams from the parallel NIHL South cup competition.

We were now in June and the partial lifting of Covid restrictions meant that a certain number of fans, under strict testing and distancing conditions, were allowed to attend the play off weekend at iceSheffield.

Widnes won their semi final against Slough Jets 5-3 and then beat Sheffield Scimitars 7-4 in the final to be crowned Division 1 National Champions 2021, which was a remarkable achievement for a team that hadn’t even been training together 4 months beforehand.

Richard Haggar returned to the Wild as player coach for the new 2021/22 season and was faced with building a squad to take on the likes of Blackburn, Solway, Whitley and Billingham on a regular basis. Here again, Hull’s loss was Widnes’ gain as, with the Hull Pirates not taking part in the National Division this season, several of their players came to join the ranks of the Wild and add some extra higher division experience.

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So, as we look ahead to the rest of the NIHL Moralee Division season in 2022, Widnes could hardly be in a better position.

They are in 3rd place in the league and have played fewer games than any other team. They are, admittedly, 9 points behind second place Whitley Warriors and 11 behind leaders Solway Sharks but they do still have to play both of those teams twice more.

The Wild recently picked up a league point for a regulation time draw away in Dumfries and then beat the Sharks in a two-legged cup semi final so all things are still possible.

They do have a bit of a fixture backlog facing them, however. The league game away at Solihull Barons that was scheduled for Sunday 2nd January has been postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the Wild camp and will have to be rescheduled.

There is also the matter of the two legged Moralee Cup final with home and away games needing to be arranged against Dundee Comets. Indoor sport has been put on hold again in Scotland for the next few weeks and there are only so many match dates available in the calendar so it will be interesting to see how those extra games can be accommodated.

As things stand, the Wild’s next NIHL game will be away to Blackburn Hawks on Sunday 9th January – 6pm face off. They are next due to be at home the Sunday after – 16th January – when they will take on the Hawks again at Planet Ice Widnes – 5.20pm face off.

In the meantime, the Widnes Wild Ladies team continue their Women’s Premier League campaign with two home games – against Kingston Diamonds on Sunday 2nd January and Sheffield Shadows on 9th January, both 4.15pm face off, at Planet Ice Widnes.

In view of the ever changing Covid situation, spectators are advised to check with an official source before travelling to games at the current time.

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All Photos ©Gw-Images unless otherwise stated

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