June 6, 2021
Hockey is all about winning the last game of the season. And as weird as this mini season has been, Widnes Wild did just that on Sunday night to lift the final silverware of the NIHL return to play series, beating Sheffield Scimitars 7-4 in the Cup Final at Ice Sheffield.
The second day of fans in the stands saw Saturday’s numbers swell by around 100 day tickets with excellent numbers supporting the two finalists.
Sheffield and Widnes had met six times in the respective northern NIHL cup competitions, and this last meeting had all the hallmarks of a ‘game 7’ with both sides taking part in a full-blooded encounter.
Widnes had the early jump and were on the board after three minutes. Player-coach Rich Haggar saw his shot from between the circles deflect off a Sheffield stick and into the net to open the scoring.
It got better for the Wild moments later with their top line cycling the puck round the net. Kieran Brown was at the side of the net and forced the puck over the line from close range at 5.42.
The sides swapped scoreless powerplay chances before Widnes opened a three-goal margin midway through the period. Dani Haid fired a wrist shot from the right circle which beat Hadfield high blocker.
As the buzzer sounded there was a coming together in front of the Widnes bench – coincidental double minors for roughing were handed out to Jack Brammer and Tom Barry, but Widnes took their 3-0 lead to the locker room.
Sheffield thought they were on the board in the first shift of the second period but it was waved off by referee Hands.
Two penalties in quick succession – one to each side – put the teams at four-on-four and with the extra space Widnes made it 4-0 as Lewis Baldwin’s shot went post and in at 24.26.
Sheffield made an instant reply, on the next shift Scott McKenzie fed Josh Yeardley and his shot was able to find the twine behind Harrison Walker at 25.00.
Scimitars killed the first of what would be two successive too-many-men penalties in the 34th minute when Widnes extended their lead. Mikey Gilbert’s shot seemed to take a deflection on its path and beat Hadfield short side.
Into the final period the game got a little chippy and penalties followed. Following a spell of four on four, Jack Brammer reduced the arrears for Sheffield at 47.26, skating across the top of the creased and shooting five hole on Walker.
Once again a goal brought an immediate response from the opposing side. This time it was just 42 seconds before Widnes restored the four goal gap. Kieran Brown skated down the wing and below the goalline before a pinpoint pass was one-timed into the net by Jordan Griffin.
Just over ten minutes from time the major flashpoint saw Warren Tait – already being called for a slashing minor – board his Widnes opponent sparking a flareup with several players involved.
After order was restored Sheffield’s Tait was given the original minor plus 5+game for boarding and 2+2+10 for fighting. Steve Duncombe picked up 2+2+game for leaving the bench to join the melee and a match for abuse of official.
On the Widnes side Jay Robinson received 2+2+game for leaving the bench and Jordan Griffin 2+2+10 for fighting.
Sheffield were already one man short at the time, so an extended five on three for Widnes saw them net a seventh – Lewis Baldwin with his second ‘ping and in’ effort of the night at 50.17.
As time wound down, Scimitars were able to finally solve goalie Harrison Walker with two late efforts from Scott McKenzie (57.20) and Ruskin Springer-Hughes (58.14) to make the final score Sheffield 4 Widnes 7.
Man of the match honours went to Widnes’ Brady Doxey and Sheffield’s Elliot Knell.
After the medals were presented, Mikey Gilbert and Bez Hughes skated up to collect the silverware from NIHL director Andrew Miller and for Widnes, it was time to go Wild!
After the game, Widnes player coach Rich 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.”
Haggar’s opposite number, Sheffield’s Steve Weeks said: “Full credit to Widnes on their win, we’ve had some great games with them this year and they got out to a big lead and we were left with a mountain to climb.
“It was brilliant to have the fans back this weekend, they bring that energy and reaction to the play on the ice so that was great to hear and a step towards normality.”
You can hear the full interview with both coaches as well as NIHL/EIHA director Andrew Miller on the EIHA podcast this Monday evening.
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