Widnes Hockey’s New Black and Gold
Ice Hockey on the Mersey is not new but for over 30 years it has been missing. In August 2013 this changed as the Widnes Wild began operations out of the new Silverblades Ice Rink at the Hive leisure complex.
The rink itself is very nice. Outside there are restaurants and some nearby shops. In side a seating area behind the benches holds around 300 in close proximity to the ice whilst on the opposite side of the rink are the cafÃ© and changing rooms. There is also a smaller rink behind one goal for younger children to learn to skate on. It is a good size and has a freshness about it. Certainly being close to the ice and the benches is somewhat unique in newer rinks in the UK. Elsewhere the fans are lifted up and almost look down on the ice limited sightlines but in Widnes there is a good view from the seating area of the entire ice pad.
Playing in the National League is a suitable place to start for a new team in an area not familiar with ice hockey. I was quite surprised at the numbers of new to the sport fans in attendance for Sundayâ€™s game. It pleasing to see that it was not just people who may have gone to watch the Manchester Storm or the Manchester Phoenix occasionally over the years but actually brand new supporters keen to learn about the sport and see some good action. The National League more than provides this and at a superb cost. On Sunday night there were 8 goals (Wild lost 5-3 to the Sheffield Senators) and a fight as well as some hard hits and good saves by both teams. I would challenge anyone to find more entertainment for Â£5 per adult on a Sunday night.
With all new things though there is a risk that the novelty will wear off but in Widnes there is hope that this new audience will continue to develop and have a hunger for the sport. It may surprise some that Widnes is actually well placed for ice hockey. The main sport in the town is rugby as it is the surrounding towns of Warrington and St Helens but with rugby season running from February to October there is little overlap with a winter sport. Widnes is also close to Liverpool and its large population and has easy motorway links to elsewhere as well over the famous Runcorn â€“ Widnes Bridge into the rest of cheshire. There are also local rivalries with Deeside, Blackburn and Manchester to exploit. Competition from football is also at a minimum with tickets to Liverpool and Everton expensive and regularly sold out and other teams such as Warrington Town playing in the lower reaches of footballâ€™s pyramid.
A first season is always difficult especially in a new building and starting the season on the road but I do get the feeling there is something to build on. Off the ice is new facility that is to get some tweaks in the future. A PA system that faces the crowd would one that would help and enable the audience to become part of the game a bit more. Some Wild branding also wouldnâ€™t go a miss however the fans at the game on Sunday with their black and gold scarves gave it a home game feel.
On the ice there is something to build on. There is already a growing youth system and a rec side at the rink that offers positives in the longer term but in the short term the senior side has some building blocks too. There is a mix of youth and experience and Slovakian born Filip Supa offers the Wild a star to work with.
Next weekends game with Deeside is sure to a special occasion as the side from North Wales will bring some travelling support for this Northwest derby. Whilst the Wild may be the underdogs it will not be straightforward for the Dragons and with the right moves it may not be long until the established sides in the NIHL arrive in Cheshire without that favourite moniker.