What a game! Players, spectators and officials all knew they had played in orÂ witnessed an outstanding contest.
After the disappointment of the Coventry fixture, a re-energised Wild took the reigning league champions all the way in a thrilling contest which had spectators on the on the edges of their (new) seats until the final minute.
Widnes have struggled to start well in several games but in the second minute a break down the right side of the rink saw Shaun Dipnall feed Bobby Caunce who shot low between netminder Alan Levers legs for the opening goal. Both sides were passing and skating at speed and both Steve Gilmartin for Widnes and Alan LeversÂ made a series of spectacular saves. Interference penalties against Filip Supa and Tony Melbourne twice reduced the home side to four skaters but they weathered the storm to go into the first interval leading by the single goal.
The second period was only three minutes old when Wild lost control of the puck behind the net. A short pass from Ben Wood found Dan Hazeldine who fired home low through Gilmartin’s legs.Â At 1 -1Â both sides battled for ascendancy, with end to end attack. Both sides took penalties, leading to some desperate defence. Steve Gilmartin was slightly the busier netminder in the second period, keeping out 17 shots. The period finished with the scores tied.
Something had to give and it was Widnes who cracked first. Some confusion in front of the Wild net saw some sharp interpassing from Perkes and Wood, and Hazeldine scored his second goal with a shot from the right. Soon after, Widnes took successive penalties – Tony Melbourne for roughing and Dan Bracegirdle for delaying the game.Â The penalties came just a few seconds apart, but despite two defencemen being in the penalty box, Wild fought magnificently to prevent the Lions from going two goals ahead. In the 53rd minute, after absorbing pressure, Widnes broke clear. A Tony Melbourne pass sent leading scorer Bobby Caunce clear and a clever deke took him past the retreating defence to slot low past Levers. The crowd roar nearly lifted the roof off the Silver Blades ice rink. The remaining minutes saw both sides battling to score, yet trying to ensure a breakaway didn’t lead to the deciding goal.
Wild Head Coach Mark Gillingham was pleased with his team’s performance.
‘There’s no doubt that the game was a great one for the spectators, and as a team performance it was our strongest of the season so far. To take a point from last season’s champions is great testament to the way we picked ourselves up afterÂ last week’s disappointment in Coventry, and I think we were unlucky not to take more from the game.Â It was the first time we’ve played a full sixty minutes without taking our foot off the gas, and it’s a standard we’ve set ourselves to carry over into the rest of the season. We’ll have to step up again next week, because the away game at Blackburn, as well as the game against Solihull, will provide a different test to the one the Lions have put in front of us, and we’ve got to maintain our momentum.’
A standing ovation greeted the teams at the final buzzer after an outstanding game, which was a great advert for Laidler Conference hockey.
Wild travel to nearby Blackburn to face the Eagles on Saturday (17.45 face off) before returning to Widnes for a Sunday home game against the Solihull Barons (face off 18.15). This will be the first time the teams have met and Wild expect to have influential playmaker Andy Clark available.
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