The YKK sponsored Widnes Wild have qualified for the semi final of the Moralee Cup for the second year running, setting up a fascinating 2-legged clash with league leaders Solway Sharks.
The two teams met at the same stage of the cup competition last season with Widnes pulling off a sensational victory over the two games – picking up a 3-3 draw away in Dumfries and then winning the home leg 5-4 to go through 8-7 on aggregate. The performance in the away game was especially impressive as it was the only game all season that Solway failed to win on their own ice.
That semi final win set up a two-legged encounter in the final with another Scottish team – the Dundee Comets - who Widnes had never played before. Here again, the Wild put in a sterling shift in Scotland to come away with a 3-3 draw and then won the cup with a 4-3 victory at Planet Ice Widnes the following night.
Widnes have qualified for this year’s semi-final by virtue of their finishing place in the cup qualifying table, where the top four teams go through.
Due to ice time availability issues and fixture congestion concerns across the NIHL, the teams didn’t take part in separate cup qualifying games this season as they had in previous years and, instead, the results for the first meetings between all the teams home and away were used to compile the group table.
With Deeside Dragons falling behind with their league games due to delays in their home rink being ready after a refurbishment, their results have been removed from the equation, leaving Widnes and Solihull locked together in the fourth place for the final semi-final berth. In the two meetings between those two teams, Widnes won 5-1 in the home game and Solihull won 4-3 in the away game. In ice hockey, when teams finish level on points in the final standings, they are separated by the outcome of matches between the two teams, which gives the Wild the advantage by a 3 goal margin overall.
The other semi-final sees Whitley Warriors take on Billingham Stars in a north east derby and the winners of the two semi finals will then meet in a two-legged final.
Widnes have lost home and away to all three of the other semi-finalists this season and will be hoping that the “magic of the cup” will rub off on them.
They lost 5-2 away to Solway back in October and then narrowly missed out on their first league win against the perennial achievers in the most dramatic fashion in the recent home game when Solway scored a last ditch equaliser with just 18 seconds left to play, and then went on to win in overtime.
The away leg of the semi final takes place in Dumfries this Saturday 7th January with the home game on Saturday 21st January at Planet Ice Widnes.
The addition of these extra games gives the Wild a very busy schedule during the month of January, with the revised fixture list as follows:
Sat 7th: away @ Solway (Cup SF1)
Sun 8th: away @ Nottingham
Sun 15th: home v Blackburn
Sat 21st: home v Solway (Cup SF2)
Sun 22nd: away @ Solihull
Sat 28th: home v Sheffield
Sun 29th: away @ Whitley
The full list of fixtures for the rest of the season can be seen HERE, where a link can also be found for advance ticket purchases.