Tuesday 8 August 2023

10th Anniversary Of First Ever Widnes Wild Match

Ken Armstrong playing in the Widnes Wild's first ever game in August 2013 (Photo by Geoff White)

The Widnes Wild team played their first ever game ten years ago this week with a 1-6 challenge match defeat at home to Sheffield Spartans at the Silver Blades rink – as it was originally called - in Widnes on Sunday 11th August 2013.

In the intervening decade, the Wild senior NIHL team have played a grand total of 363 league, cup, play off, challenge and charity matches, winning 210 of them, losing 129, drawing 14 – and picking up 10 overtime losses for drawn games that were subsequently decided by a golden goal.

Over that time they have iced 133 different players who, between them, have clocked up 6102 appearances, scored 1704 goals, 2438 assists and picked up 6153 penalty minutes in the process.

The longest serving Wild player is Ken Armstrong who played in that first ever game and is the only player to have remained at Widnes for the whole of the 10 year period that they have been operating.  He is the club’s leading appearances holder with 294 at the end of the 2022/23 season – 2 ahead of Tom Jackson’s 292 – during which he has scored a total of 28 goals, 28 assists and picked up 52 penalty minutes. 

Looking back to that first Wild game, Armstrong said: “I don’t really remember much about the game apart from the rink being packed and the fans were crazy. I think a lot had come straight from the Vikings Rugby League game so were fairly tipsy. They didn’t really know much about hockey but seemed to be having fun. The first season went quite well for a new team. A lot of the lads already knew each other so it was good.”

The full team for the Wild’s historic first ever match against Sheffield Spartans was: Tom McDonald, Steve Gilmartin, Greg Ruxton, Dan Bracegirdle, Richard Charles, Kurtis Hall, Stewart Marriott, Calum Ruddick, Filip Supa, Ken Armstrong, Chris Preston, Troy Evans, Bobby Caunce, Craig Williams. Head Coach: Mark Gillingham, Asst Coach: Garry Fearon, Asst Coach: Peter Bleackley. 

Craig Williams (#88) scores the Wild's first ever goal in the
challenge match against Sheffield Spartans (Photo by Geoff White)

Now a successful match referee, Craig Williams scored the only Widnes goal of the game, 11 minutes in.  He said of that historic first ever Wild goal: “I remember thinking at the start, we are going to have to either get lucky or have a magic moment to get a goal against a well-established Division One team. It turns out that, with Chris Preston’s pass, we got the bit of magic and me being in the right place, finding just the netminder to beat we got a bit of luck. 

“I hit the blue line as the pass hit my stick, lucky the puck didn’t fly off into the corner, but the pass was well weighted, as I put my head up the keeper moved and my shot was instinct to go low as he moved high. This was a moment that will live with me forever.”

Richard Charles was the Wild's MVP in their first match
(Photo by Geoff White)

Former Dundee Rockets player and GB Under 16 international Richard Charles made a return to the game after a 15 year break, having been signed after the open player trials and was named the Wild’s first Most Valuable Player.

Looking back on that day, Charles said:  “I was awarded 'Man of the Match', which, of course, was a great honour for me. I assumed Craig Williams would have got it for scoring the first ever Widnes Wild goal - a great memory.”

“Mick Caunce, Mark Gillingham and Matt Lloyd had pulled together a very good group of lads in a very short time to get this team off the ground and I will be forever grateful for them giving an old timer like me the opportunity to be involved back then." 

“I still take great pride from my involvement with the club.”


Specialist publishers Ice Hockey Review have produced a book chronicling the Wild’s first 10 years as a club entitled “10 Years In the Wild”. It features a wealth of information including season by season summaries and player statistics, Full Player A to Z, Head to Head Records against other teams and a fascinating 10 year statistical round up.  

The book is packed with colour photos from the Wild’s first 10 years by long term official photographer Geoff White and is available by mail order from the publisher’s website at www.icehockeyreview.co.uk. 

For more information - and mail order links - CLICK HERE


As a tribute to all the players, coaches, team staff, off ice officials, match volunteers and fans who have been involved with the Widnes club over its first 10 years, we are pleased to make available our “unofficial” 10 year playing records for the Wild NIHL team available as a FREE DOWNLOAD HERE:

If you are interested in this sort of thing, you might like to consider buying the “10 Years In the Wild” book, which goes into a lot more detail.