|Widnes Wild won the North West Challenge Cup last season – photo by Geoff White
The Widnes Wild NIHL team were without a game last weekend after failing to qualify for the semi finals of the Moralee Cup - the first time in 3 years.
The Wild had actually won the trophy in 2022 and then lost out in a 2–legged semi final to Solway Sharks last season but their lowly position of 7th in the standings after the qualifying games this season means that they missed out this time around.
Following difficulties in previous seasons with ice time availability and fixture backlogs affecting the scheduling of the semi final matches between the qualifying teams, the league organisers – rather sensibly – left a free weekend in the schedules across the country this week with no games arranged for any team to have to work around.
This year’s Moralee Cup semi finals saw Billingham beat Hull and Blackburn beat Solihull to set up a 2-legged final between the Stars and the Hawks.
But there is another cup competition where Widnes remain very much in the running, and that is the triangular M56 Cup that is being played between themselves, Deeside Dragons and Blackburn.
The M56 Cup was supposed to have been played last season as well but the Dragons had scheduling issues and only one game was ever played. Instead, the competition was renamed the “North West Challenge Cup” and was played over two legs between Widnes and Blackburn with the Wild winning 7-4 on aggregate.
Widnes have played two games so far in this season’s M56 cup – beating Deeside 10-8 and losing 5-7 to Blackburn - and they still have the return games to play in the “round robin” group.
There is a bit of a question mark over the Blackburn v Deeside cup ties at present to complete the set of fixtures after the Dragons visit to East Lancashire on 13th January was postponed in the aftermath of an unsavoury incident that occurred in the league game between the two teams the previous weekend.
That matter is the subject of an investigation by the police and the English Ice Hockey Association and it is unclear as to whether the outstanding game will be played. If it is not rescheduled, the EIHA will have to make a decision as to who is at fault and how to complete the Cup competition table.
They have the option to award the win and 2 points to the non-offending team, or to record the match as a draw with 1 point each or 0 points each, depending on the findings of the investigation.
Obviously this will have a huge bearing on the destination of the trophy so, in the meantime, the Wild have the opportunity to place themselves in the best possible position by gaining positive results in their own two remaining cup away games away at Deeside this Saturday 3rd February, 5.15pm face off, and away to Blackburn on 17th February.
Aside from the first cup encounter, which was won by the Wild, Widnes and Deeside have each won one of the league meetings this season so far – with both winning at the other’s home rink – so Saturday’s game is too close to call and could go either way.
The Wild have another tough away trip when they make the long journey to the North East to face league leaders Billingham Stars on Sunday. They are next at home on Sunday 11th February when they take on Sheffield Scimitars at Planet Ice Widnes, 5.30pm face off.