Wild Toppled As Eagles Soar
The RTL sponsored Widnes Wild were knocked off the top of the Laidler Conference after a dramatic weekend both on and off the ice which culminated in a 3-5 home defeat by fellow title challengers Blackburn Eagles at Silver Blades Widnes on Sunday night.
With both teams enjoying a 100% start to the season and locked at the table with 8 points each, something would have to give – but the first blow of the weekend was struck before a puck had even been fired in anger as it was announced on Saturday that Widnes’ Slovakian-born import Michal Fico had defected to play for the Eagles.
While he went on to score an incredible 1+5 for his new team against Bradford Bulldogs on Saturday night, in a 12-2 win that edged Blackburn ahead on points, the timing of the move meant that Widnes had to go into the big game on Sunday night an import short as there been no time to secure a replacement before the match.
The game was played in front of a sell-out crowd – boosted by a large travelling contingent from East Lancashire – and the atmosphere was absolutely electric throughout.
It’s difficult to say to what extent the Fico situation may have affected the outcome of the game as he didn’t actually score any goals or any assists against his former club but the Wild certainly seemed to be off their game in a number of respects.
Passes across goal that would normally be slotted in were being missed, slapshots were going a touch wide and the Widnes team had trouble keeping the puck in the Blackburn blue zone to build up any kind of pressure. That said, the Eagles team were very well organised, very strong defensive and their netminder was outstanding and made a number of point blank saves which any other time would have hit the back of the net.
Blackburn seem to have had the run of the puck and made the most of their breakout situations and this is where the majority of their goals came from.
The first goal went to the visitors after 5.45 when Widnes were a man short due to a slashing penalty but they pulled back level just 3 minutes level as captain Shaun Dipnall fired away a Kieran Strangeway pass off the blue line. Widnes tried to push on and build on that breakthrough but were caught out when the Eagles edged ahead again with a shorthanded goal after 14 minutes. The period ended 1-2 to the Eagles with plenty still to play for in the remaining 40 minutes.
There was a humorous incident worthy of note when a little skirmish broke out as the players were going off the ice. Wild’s Karl Niamatali got into an altercation with Eagles’ player coach Scott Barnett. A match official pulled Barnett away but Niamatali – in mid-lunge – ended up grappling the “stripey” to the ground by mistake. Luckily, he realised his error before throwing any more punches and immediately apologised. The match referee obviously realised what had happened and Niamatali was only given 2+2 for roughing along with Barnett.
The second period was extremely tense. The Wild had trouble making inroads past the Blackburn defence and the Eagles outshot Widnes by almost 2 to 1. The home team hung on, but just as it seemed as if the period would finish goalless, they were pegged back by a sensational blueline strike from the Eagles’ former Blackburn Hawks Chris Arnone with just 30 seconds left until the second buzzer. The Eagles took a deserved 1-3 lead into the third and final period.
Whatever Widnes player coach Ollie Barron said in the dressing room, it certainly had an effect as the Wild looked a completely different team in the third period. They came out firing on all cylinders and threw the kitchen sink at the Blackburn goal – outshooting the visitors 32 to 8 in the final period.
A goal came after 4 minutes of pressure as Stuart Brittle zigzagged through the Eagles defence to pull the Wild back to just one goal behind. Widnes continued to push forward in search of an equaliser but they left gaps at the back and within 5 minutes Blackburn had restored their two goal advantage.
With just 5 minutes left on the clock Karl Niamatali pulled another goal back for Widnes and the Wild racked up the pressure once again.
The tension around the rink for the last 5 minutes was almost unbearable and then – with just 60 seconds left to play – the Wild pulled netminder Matt Croyle and sent on an extra forward to try and force a last minute goal.
Unfortunately, the move didn’t work out. The Wild were pressurising the Eagles net when Karl Niamatali appeared to be tripped. The referee declined to award a penalty and Blackburn raced to the other end and scored in the empty net with just 40 seconds left to play and made sure of the points.
Following the weekend’s games, Widnes Wild are now second in the Laidler Conference table 4 points behind leaders Blackburn Eagles, who have played one game more.
The Wild are next in action next Sunday 16th October when they entertain Sheffield Senators at Silver Blades Widnes. The game faces off at 5.30pm and doors open at 4.45
Sunday 9th October 2016 – Laidler Conference
Widnes Wild 3 – Blackburn Eagles 5
Period Scores: 1-2, 0-1, 2-2
Shots On Goal: Widnes 59 – Blackburn 37
Penalties In Minutes: Widnes 22 – Blackburn 16
Widnes Scoring: Shaun Dipnall 1+1, Stuart Brittle & Karl Niamatali both 1+0, Ollie Barron, Jo Gilbert, Nick Manning and Kieran Strangeway all 0+1.