The Bristol Pitbulls lost their first pre-season friendly of the 2017-18 season, ending up on the wrong end of an 8-3 scoreline against the Widnes Wild. However, coach Richie Hargreaves was left feeling upbeat at the performance he saw from his team.
He said: “Although the scoreline says different, it was a lot closer that that. We started off really well.
“The first two periods, we were very much in it. No disrespect to Widnes, but I though that it was only really good individual efforts that made the difference from them. But, in the end, our legs ran out. But, given that we’d only had one training session two weeks earlier and travelled three and a half hours before jumping on the ice, I’m still happy with the way that we came out.”
It was also a slightly shorter Bristol bench that travelled north to Widnes for the first time in three years with no fewer than nine of the squad unable to play. Something which may also have played a part in the team struggling late on.
But, there was little sign of it early on. Pitbulls failed to take advantage of an early double powerplay to open the scoring, and were punished for it when Oliver Barron opened the scoring for the hosts a minute later. Widnes’s new import, Elvis Veldze doubled that lead with the first of his hat-trick before Zach Dolphin opened the Pitbulls account with a powerplay goal late in the period to keep the game tight at the first break.
Veldze and Barron both scored again in the third, Barron’s short-handed with Stuart Brittle sitting out a holding stick minor. However, Richie Hargreaves scored just ten seconds later to keep Bristol in the game at the second break.
But it was the third period where it all became undone. Andy Leckie replaced Ross Miller between the pipes, but there was little that Leckie could do to stop the game running away despite a further goal by Adri Smith.
With legs getting increasingly tired, passes were increasingly missed, opening up the defence to counter attacks.
Hargreaves said: “It’s moments like that that decide a game. We definitely did a great job of shutting most of the team down. They had three guys that scored seven of their eight goals between them. But, they didn’t really have any sustained pressure in our end.
“It was mistakes by us that let them in on the counter attack. We’d go on the rush, they’d pick up the puck and go the other way. But, these are things we can tighten up our game with.”
Hargreaves has always said that he doesn’t play pre-season games to win. Indeed, the last pre-season game that Pitbulls won was against Widnes back in 2014. Instead, his emphasis is on conditioning and, on that basis, he sees the result as a success.
He said: “What I liked with us is that you could see that guys had made an effort over the summer. Even with a short-bench, they kept going and weren’t disheartened.
“We’re all competitors and want to win. So we were upset with ourselves. But the room was still upbeat after the game. Guys were quietly confident with the performances that they had put in.
“So, I’m happy with the outcome. We got to get the legs going, got to get into good habits, again. The guys were willing to listen and were sticking to their lanes. So, hopefully by the time our league comes around in a couple of weeks, we’re going to be ready as we’ve already gotten rid of the rust.”