The YKK sponsored Widnes Wild finished the 2022/23 NIHL season comfortably in the 5th place in the Moralee Division table and, with some silverware in their trophy cabinet following a two-legged victory at the expense of Blackburn Hawks in the North West Challenge Cup, so there were plenty of reasons to be pleased with their overall performance.
The achievements this season are all the greater in view of the various upheavals behind the scenes that took place during the summer. Long term chairman and club founder Matt Lloyd stood down after 9 years and was replaced at the helm by Danny Davies and Georgia Weekes.
The club also parted company with General Manager Wez Spurrett, who was replaced by the returning Jon Anderson as an interim measure before David Edwards was officially appointed in December.
The usual merry-go-round of player arrivals and departures that always accompanies British ice hockey every summer saw several of last season’s squad move upwards to National Division teams. But a sense of stability was assured with the welcome return of Richard Haggar as head coach as well as a trusty core of long term Wild players like Ken Armstrong, Bez Hughes, Tom Jackson and Lee Kemp.
Haggar set about the task of building a squad that would be competitive in the Moralee Division and he attracted two players with National Division experience in forward Joey Coulter and netminder Miles Finney.
Altrincham Aces Laidler Division pairing Andrew Hopkins and Jonathan Williamson stepped up a division to join the Wild and a handful of promising youngsters were also signed on 2-way arrangements with other clubs.
16 year old Rhys Edwards became the youngest player ever to ice for the Wild NIHL team when he made his debut in September and, despite his tender years, has been highly impressive throughout and went on to finish as one of the Wild’s leading points scorers for the season.
Graduates from the Wild junior academy such as Jake Meehan, Joel Bark and Jake Lowndes have also had NIHL ice time this season and, with the junior teams making significant progress at every age level year on year, the development system is sure to continue feeding into the senior team in the future.
In terms of league results, the Wild games went pretty much to general form – mostly losing home and away to the top teams, beating the bottom two teams four times out of four and having mixed results against all the other mid-table sides.
Popular long-term Widnes defenceman Lee Kemp left the club in December and the Wild roster was given a mid-season boost with the signings of Will Harper from Sheffield and former Manchester Phoenix EPL player Jacob Corson-Heron, who both made impressive contributions to the team.
The Wild qualified for the semi final of the Moralee Cup – with half an eye on retaining the trophy that they had won last season - but crashed out 16-3 over two legs to Solway Sharks, after which player coach Haggar jumped ship to go back and play for Hull in the Laidler Division.
Senior player Joey Coulter took on the role of player coach for the rest of the campaign and, while the signing deadline came too soon for him to make any changes to the squad, supporters noticed a new gritty determination among the players and the revitalised Wild embarked on a 3 game winning streak, albeit against teams below them in the table.
The new regime saw the Wild pick up their first ever win over bogey team Whitley Warriors in early March but subsequent heavy losses on road trips to high flying Billingham and Solway prevented Widnes from building up any kind of momentum in the run up to the play offs.
As well as the morale boosting cup win over Blackburn mid-season and 4 closely run league games against the Hawks, the Wild were able to renew acquaintances with fierce local rivals Deeside Dragons after a 2½ year absence, which brought another series of closely contested and entertaining games.