Widnes Wild – NIHL Division 1 National Champions 2021 (Photo by Geoff White)
The YKK sponsored Widnes Wild were crowned National Division 1 Champions after beating Slough Jets 5-3 in the semi final and then Sheffield Scimitars 7-4 in the final at iceSheffield at the weekend.
It was a superb achievement for the Wild team – who had not even been training together until February due to the coronavirus lockdown, and had lost heavily to both of the weekend’s opponents in their previous meetings with them.
The semi final on Saturday saw them take on Slough Jets of NIHL South and the only previous occasion that these two teams had met was in the Division 2 National Final in Coventry in April 2019, when the Jets had won quite easily 7-1.
The Jets actually went ahead after just two minutes of the game but the lead didn’t last long as Widnes equalised with a great goal from Adam Barnes.
A second from Barnes – following an interception by player coach Richard Haggar in the Slough zone – gave the Wild the lead on 10 minutes and the score remained 1-2 to Widnes at the first period break.
The Slough team out-shot Widnes over the course of the game by 45 to 35 but it was the Wild who were able to make more out of their opportunities.
A powerplay goal from Lewis Baldwin – fired into the top right hand corner of the Slough net – edged the Wild further ahead on 27 minutes and the score stood at 1-3 to Widnes after two periods.
Slough pulled a goal back in the 48th minute but Widnes pulled away again with Kieran Brown firing in a high shot just 90 seconds later to make the score 2-4.
A fifth goal for the Wild on 52 minutes, after a masterful solo run by Brown, looked to have put Widnes on their way to a well earned victory but Slough pulled another goal back on 55 minutes to narrow the deficit to just 2.
The clock ticked down agonisingly slowly for the Wild faithful and with 2.20 left to play, Widnes incurred a tripping penalty. Slough removed their netminder in favour of an extra attacker and tried to make the most of the 6 on 4 advantage.
The Wild goal was under siege for the remaining two minutes of the game but netminder Harrison Walker put in a fine display and kept the Slough attack at bay and Widnes held on to secure a well deserved 3-5 victory.
The Wild had played Sheffield 6 times in recent weeks in the various NIHL North competitions and had won 2 and lost 4 of those games.
However, despite playing at the Scimitars home venue, Widnes looked much the better side in the first period and opened the scoring with a goal from player coach Richard Haggar after just 3 minutes. Two minutes later it was 0-2 to the Wild, courtesy of a Kieran Brown strike, and then 0-3 on 10 minutes with a goal from Dani Haid.
A goal from Lewis Baldwin put Widnes 4 ahead early in the second period before Sheffield finally opened their account on 25 minutes. However, Mikey Gilbert restored the 4-goal advantage for Widnes with a strike on 33 minutes and the score remained at 1-5 to the Wild at the second period break.
Sheffield picked up a bit in the third period and scored their second goal on 47 minutes. But, once again, Widnes struck right back and a goal from Jordan Griffin kept the Wild firmly in the driving seat.
Tempers boiled over with just over ten minutes to play when Sheffield captain and former GB player Warren Tait – already being called for a delayed slashing minor penalty – smashed Wild’s Brady Doxey into the boards with a challenge so hard that it shattered his visor, sparking a fracas with several players involved.
Tait was given the original minor plus 5 + game for boarding and 2 + 2 +10 for fighting. Scimitars’ Steve Duncombe picked up 2 + 2+ game for leaving the bench to join the melee and a match for abuse of official while, for Widnes, Jay Robinson received 2 + 2 + game for leaving the bench and 2 + 2 + 10 for fighting.
Sheffield were already one man short at the time, and the 5 on 3 man advantage for Widnes saw them net a seventh through Lewis Baldwin with his second goal of the game.
Sheffield pulled two goals back in the final minutes to give the score a touch more respectability but it was a case of “too little, too late” and the Wild won the game by 7 goals to 4.
A nice touch was shown by Wild captain for the series Joe Coulter – who invited long term Widnes players Bez Hughes and Mikey Gilbert to receive the trophy from EIHA Director Andrew Miller.
After the game Wild player coach Richard Haggar said:
“It’s a good feeling that’s for sure, and it’s what we’ve been working for. We came with a plan to play against all teams regardless of who it was, and I’m pleased we were able to start well tonight and see the job through.”
“It’s great to do it in front of our fans, to hear them cheering and shouting and bringing everything they do to the game was amazing.”
Summing up, Wild General manager Wez Spurrett said:
“What an incredible few weeks and series, topped off with a well deserved playoff win by the team! We’ve loved every minute of the last couple of series, but it was nothing compared to playing in front of the fans this weekend.”
“Every member of the team, on and off the ice got such a boost playing to a crowd again – and it showed in the results. We’ve worked really hard to make sure we rounded off this series in the right way, and we couldn’t have asked for more from the team than walking away with the trophy.”
- Saturday 5th June 2021 – Semi Final 2
- Slough Jets 3 – YKK Widnes Wild 5 (at iceSheffield)
- Period Scores: 2-2, 1-2, 21, 1-0
- Shots on Goal: Slough 45 – Widnes 35
- Penalties In Minutes: Slough 30 – Widnes 26
- Sunday 6th June 2021 – Division 1 National Championship Final
- Sheffield Scimitars 4 – YKK Widnes Wild 7 (at iceSheffield)
- Period Scores: 0-3, 1-2, 3-2
- Shots on Goal: Sheffield 38 – Widnes 35
- Penalties In Minutes: Sheffield 108 – Widnes 52