|Wild NIHL Head Coach Joey Coulter wearing the Halton Haven Hospice charity shirt (Photo by Ste Cunningham / Shots By Ste)
The Widnes Wild NIHL team have ended the calendar year of 2023 in a rather uncustomary position in the bottom half of the Moralee Division table, with just 6 wins from their 19 league games to date.
They are in 7th place in the standings – or third from bottom, depending on how you look at it – a healthy 4 points ahead of second bottom Sheffield Scimitars and 5 ahead of bottom club Nottingham Lions. However, they are also 7 points adrift of 6th place Hull Jets who, at present, look like the only team they have a realistic chance of overtaking.
It is a testament to the many achievements of the club over the years that this is the first time since 2014 that they have occupied the bottom half of the table at the midway point of the season. But past glories don’t win matches and player coach Joey Coulter will have his work set out for him if the Wild are to improve on their current standing over the rest of the campaign.
To be completely fair to the coach, the team has suffered a lot from injuries this season – along with other upheavals - all of which have made it difficult to ice a consistently settled side.
Matty Barlow –who was the team’s leading points scorer during the early part of the season - missed 7 games through injury and Rhys Edwards and Andrew Hopkins were also out at the same time for 11 and 10 games respectively.
Edwards also had a two game ban for fighting and summer signing Damarni James missed 10 games due to an EIHA suspension for an incident in the home game against his former team Blackburn back in September.
To fill this gap, the Wild team have relied heavily on the use of younger players on 2 way deals with other clubs but, with a number of these players coming from teams in Scotland, and also having to fit in with their other teams’ commitments, that solution has also presented its own set of problems in terms of logistics and availability.
Regarding results, the Wild have won just two of their league games at home so far this season – against Whitley Warriors and Nottingham Lions - and they also picked up an entertaining 10-8 win over local rivals Deeside Dragons in the M56 Cup.
They have actually fared better on their travels with 4 wins from their 10 away games – at Sheffield (twice), Nottingham and Blackburn - but that has been partly down to the fixture list pitting them against the “easier” opponents earlier in the season, whereas they have already played both their home games for the season against the tougher opposition of Whitley and Billingham.
On a positive note, the stand out player of the season so far would have to be netminder Luca Tessadri. The 18 year old former Chelmsford netminder joined National Division Leeds Knights at the start of the season and has been playing with the Wild on a 2 way arrangement that has seen him share the goaltending duties with Harrison Walker, Phil Pearson, Jake Lowndes and Gabriel Lingard. He has put in a number of impressive performances which have led to the Wild holding on to win a match – or keeping the score down in games that they have lost.
Joey Coulter is the Wild’s top overall points scorer in the league at this midway stage of the season with just 2 goals but an impressive 11 assists, although he is quite a way behind the Moralee Division’s overall leading scorer – Solihull Barons’ Niklas Ottoson - who has 34+28. Mikey Gilbert is second in the Wild rankings with 5+7 but Kyle Carruth leads the way in terms of goals with 6+1.
The Wild NIHL team resume their season with back to back away games on Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th January when they have trips to face Hull Jets and Solihull Barons respectively. They are next at home on Saturday 13th January when they entertain Solihull at Planet Ice Widnes, 7pm face off.