Widnes Wild head coach Mike Clancy refused to rule out a late title challenge after his side triumphed over Bradford Bulldogs at Planet Ice.
The Wild came from two goals down to beat the Bulldogs 5-2 – just 24 hours after they had beaten the same side in the reverse fixture in South Yorkshire.
The winning weekend sees Widnes move up to fourth in the National Ice Hockey League 2 – 11 points behind Hull Jets with two games in hand.
Clancy has an optimistic outlook on his side’s chances of overhauling table-topping Jets.
“I never say never – at the end of the day we’ve still got nine games to go in the league,” he pointed out.
“We’re almost in a play-off spot now and still got a lot of games in hand over most of the teams [above us].”
“We’ve still got to play Hull three times so it’s there or thereabouts.”
Clancy went on to praise his sides performance against a physical Bradford side, and believes the weekend’s results could kick-start a late surge towards the top of the table.
“It’s been really, really tough,” he admitted.
“We targeted Bradford as one of the games to start getting us back into that groove.”
“We know Bradford are really strong side and they come with a lot of physicality and some good talent in that team, some great experience.”
“Andy Brown is a super coach, a level three coach – one of very few in the UK. He knows what he is doing with that team.”
Widnes went down 2-0 early in the second period, but produced a remarkable turnaround to win the game – something that pleased Clancy.
“We had to regroup, think about what we were doing – play our game and not their game, lean away from the physical side of it, and move the puck quickly which worked for us today,” he said.
With just seconds remaining on the clock in the third period, a sizeable altercation broke out on the ice, resulting in four Bradford players being sent to the penalty box.
Clancy believes that the ruckus could’ve been prevented if the referee had been less lenient throughout the game.
“I think if the referee was a bit stricter at times it would’ve helped the flow of the game…it was going to boil over at some point.”
Wild net-minder Phil Pearson was in fine form against Bradford on Sunday night, and was pleased that he could help Widnes to a win over his former club.
“Yeah it feels great,” he said. “I played for Bradford last year so I transferred.”
“It’s always a big game when you play your old team. The lads played great and they pulled out both wins so yeah I am happy.”
Pearson admitted that victory over Bradford was important, but stopped short of labelling Widnes’ best of the season.
“I think some of the cup games at the start of the season against teams from the league above – we have had some great team performances.”
The Wild’s first-choice net-minder was frustrated with himself for not dealing with Bradford’s goals, but praised his team’s character to come from behind to win.
“The two goals weren’t the best goals to concede,” he said.
“It’s great for a team to come back and fight back quickly. I think we scored within two minutes of going 2-0 down.”
“We showed great character.”
Unlike his manager, Pearson ruled out a title challenge, but he is still hopeful of a runners-up spot.
“I don’t think we can finish top, I think Hull have already wrapped that up.”
“But I would like to think we could get second at least, that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Dan Bracegirdle put in an assured display against Bradford, and he was quick to point out how difficult the Bulldogs are to beat – especially away from home.
“Yeah it feels good, last night was great,” Bracegirdle said. “It’s hard to go there; they’re a horrible team to play against in their own rink.
Bracegirdle put the altercation at the end of the game down to Bradford’s frustration at losing twice in two days, but did not think it was unusual.
“Maybe they feel like things didn’t quite go their way but we’ve seen it with teams like Bradford before – I am sure we’ll see it again.”
Bracegirdle praised his side’s togetherness, but believes there is still another level for the Wild to push themselves to before the end of the season.
“I think we pulled together,” he said. “Like I just said then, coming from behind, pulling it together to get the result at the end.
“There were a couple of results and games we had at the start of the season against the teams from the league above which were impressive and showed what we are capable of.”
“I think we may have a bit more to come.”