Wild's Andrew Hopkins (#17) edges Widnes back into the lead early in the second period against Telford (photo by Steve Cunningham)
Sunday 3rd September 2023 – Challenge Match: Widnes Wild 7 – Telford Tigers2 6 (PS)
The Widnes Wild NIHL team got their 2023/24 season off to an entertaining start with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Telford Tigers 2 in their pre-season challenge match at Planet Ice Widnes on Sunday.
The game saw Wild debuts for a trio of young Scottish players Gregor Donaldson, Owen Rae and Kyle Carruth, who player coach Joey Coulter has taken on 2-way contracts from their home clubs Solway, Solway and Kilmarnock respectively – and also saw experienced netminder Phil Pearson play his first game for Widnes since 2021 after rejoining the club in the summer.
Extra frisson was added by the inclusion of former Wild player coach Scott McKenzie to the Tigers line up and the highly talented National Division – and former Elite League – player made quite an impact on the game.
Telford took an early lead after 2 minutes and, despite furious activity from both sides, it took until the last minute of the period for Alex Mitchell to fire in a Wild equaliser. Then, just as it looked as if it would remain all square at the first break, Matty Barlow nudged Widnes into the lead with 12 seconds left on the clock.
Telford scored a powerplay goal just 90 seconds into the second period to draw level; but Widnes re-established their narrow lead with a goal from Andrew Hopkins just 30 seconds later.
McKenzie drew Telford level again on 26 minutes and Widnes got into penalty trouble and ended up conceding again to the same player on a 3 v 5 Tigers powerplay. A third goal for the former Wild boss rounded off a stunning hat-trick within just over 3 minutes and saw the Tigers leading 3-5 at the midway point of the game.
Mikey Gilbert eventually pulled a goal back for the Wild with 2 minutes left to play in the second period and Hopkins levelled the score at 5-5 with a quick-fire goal straight from the restart.
Widnes took the lead again with a goal from debutant Kyle Carruth on 41 minutes but Telford levelled once again just 25 seconds later.
There were chances galore for both teams in the closing stages but the score remained stubbornly fixed at 6-6 at the end of the regulation 60 minutes play. An extra period of 5 minutes sudden death overtime failed to decide a winner and the game went to a penalty shootout, where Coulter, Carruth and Hopkins all fired away their shots to hand Widnes the narrowest of victories.
The Wild play the Tigers2 in the return fixture away in Telford on Saturday 9th September– face off 7.30pm – and then play their first game of the new Moralee Division season at home to Nottingham Lions on Sunday 17th September at Planet Ice Widnes.