Category: Weekend Preview

April 20th, 2019 by Laurence Thorn

See individual photos for credit

It all comes down to this: after a regular season in which the title battle went right down to the wire, it’s time for the NIHL South 2 Playoff Weekend in Bracknell.

In the tightest of tight finishes, the Slough Jets claimed the league title over the Solent Devils on countback, after both teams had finished on 51 points.

Three points further back were reigning champions Oxford in third, while early league leaders Chelmsford faded somewhat during the course of the season and ended up in fourth.

This sets up semi-final match-ups on Saturday of Slough vs Chelmsford, and Solent vs Oxford. Both promise to be intense games, with the results of both being very hard to predict.

The winners will then square off on Sunday in the final to crown the NIHL South 2 Playoff champions.

———-

Semi-Final 1: Slough Jets (1st) vs Chelmsford Chieftains (4th)

In the first of the weekend’s semi-finals, league champions Slough take on fourth placed Chelmsford.

Slough Jets

Player-coach Lukas Smital led the Jets to the league title (Photo: James Assinder)

Story of their season

The Jets completed a Cinderella story this season – having finished bottom of the pile two years ago, and seventh last year, player-coach Lukas Smital’s side took a huge step forward this campaign to claim the league crown.

The Jets recruited well over the summer, adding young netminding duo Matt Smital and Brett Shepherd, as well as forwards Dan Rose, Sean Norris and Sam Talbot. Smital stayed on as player-coach for a second season, as the side looked to build on a mid-table finish in the previous campaign.

Their 2018-19 season didn’t get off to an ideal start, as they went down 8-2 in Oxford in their season opener. A second loss of the season followed against the Chieftains, but in hindsight the narrow 7-6 defeat was a sign of how competitive the Jets would be.

What followed was quite spectacular – the Jets went on a 24-game winning streak between the end of September and the middle of March, including twin victories over Solent and a 4-3 home overtime win over the Chieftains in January.

The Jets finally lost a game again at the end of March, but crucially took a point as they went down in overtime to Oxford.

And Slough clinched the league title on the 6th of April with a 7-2 win over Peterborough, as they finished the season level on points with Solent but won the title on head-to-head results – with their double win over the Devils back in October proving to be absolutely crucial.

Sean Norris impressed for the Jets in his first season for the club (Photo: Kevin Slyfield)

Players to watch

Where to start? Matt Smital played the majority of games in the Slough net, logging a strong 91.71% save percentage. And when backup Brett Shepherd was called upon, he always delivered as he finished with a save percentage of 93.46%. On the blueline, defenceman Luke Reynolds once again impressed with good leadership and veteran presence.

Up front, the Jets had four players in the league’s top 20 scorers. Despite playing only 19 games out of 28, Lukas Smital topped the scoring for the team as he bagged 27 goals and 57 assists for 87 points. Team newcomers Norris (35+44=79), Talbot (32+26=58) and Rose (21+23=44) also scored big points on regular occasions.

———-

Chelmsford Chieftains

Ross Brears had his best season to date, scoring 94 points (Photo: Flyfifer Photography)

Story of their season

The Chieftains had to contend with an odd schedule this season – their Riverside rink closed for refurbishment at the end of October, so the Essex side started their season with eight home games in quick succession, before the rest of the season was a mix of away games and several “home” games at their adopted rink at Lee Valley.

They managed to keep the core of their side together from last season, although they did have to deal with the loss of influential twins Cameron and Grant Bartlett, who moved to the Invicta Dynamos in the league above.

They made a fantastic start, making full use of the home ice advantage in the early stages of the campaign to win their first nine games on the bounce and top the league early on. The Chieftains also welcomed back the Bartlett twins in October, after the duo left the Dynamos and moved back to the club where they made their name.

Chelmsford had a few blips after that, though; as well as losses to fellow title contenders Oxford and Slough in November and January respectively, they also suffered surprising defeats to Bristol and Invicta which ultimately cost them a chance of a top three finish.

Two more defeats – to Solent in March and Oxford in April – led to the Chieftains finishing the season fourth overall with 21 wins and six losses to their name.

Sonny Phillips had another impressive season between the pipes (Photo: Flyfifer Photography)

Players to watch

Netminder Sonny Phillips had another impressive season, finishing with a save percentage of 91%. On the blueline, Gary Brown had a standout year offensively as he scored 25 points, while Swedish utility man David Millner scored 30 points in 10 games after joining from NIHL South 1 side the Bracknell Bees in December.

Up front, this season was all about Ross Brears, as the 27-year-old had a breakout year offensively scoring 42 goals and 52 assists for 94 points, good enough for second overall in league scoring. The Chieftains also got strong scoring from James Ayling (29+37=66), Grant Bartlett (29+21=50), Bradley Moore (14+23=37) and Cameron Bartlett (13+19=32), as the Essex side had the best goals-per-game ratio in the whole league with 7.44 goals scored per game.

Head to Head

The two sides faced off at Chelmsford way back on the 23rd of September, with the Chieftains winning a 7-6 thriller thanks to a 59th minute winner from James Ayling. Also on target for the Chieftains in that game were Courtney Grant, Bradley Moore (two goals each), Ross Brears and Charlie Phillips; while Sean Norris and Timo Lindgren scored a brace each for the Jets with single goals coming from Dan Rose and Lukas Smital.

The rematch took place in Slough on the 12th of January, and it was another thriller as the Jets came away with a 4-3 win in overtime. Sam Talbot was the hero as he scored the overtime winner after also scoring another goal earlier on, while Sean Norris also grabbed a brace including the equalising goal just 19 seconds before the end of regulation that sent the game to overtime. On target for the Chieftains were Ross Brears (two goals) and Grant Bartlett.

———-

Semi-Final 2: Solent Devils (2nd) vs Oxford City Stars (3rd)

Reigning playoff champions Solent square off against last season’s league champions Oxford in the second semi-final on Saturday evening.

Solent Devils

Devils player-coach Alex Murray once again did an impressive job both on and off the ice (Photo: Dave Chapman)

Story of their season

Having finished second in the league last season, the Devils looked to go one better this time around and secure the league crown. And they came oh-so-close, only losing out to Slough on head-to-head results after an identical points total of 51 from a possible 56.

The south coast side started off like a house on fire, winning their first three games against Invicta, Swindon and Lee Valley with a total combined score of 36-4.

They ran into trouble at the end of October when they played the Slough Jets in back-to-back games though, losing both games in regulation time by scores of 3-1 away and 8-3 at home.

From that point onwards, they were always playing catch-up – and while they did not lose another game in regulation time all season long, they needed the Jets to slip up at least once in order to give them a chance of taking the title; and sadly for the Devils, that did not happen.

The only defeat for the Devils after the aforementioned double loss to Slough was a 5-4 shootout defeat to Chelmsford in March. If the Devils had managed to win that game, they would have taken the league title by one point.

Nonetheless, it was another very strong season from player-coach Alex Murray’s team – and having won the playoffs last season from second place in the league, they will have high hopes of doing the same this weekend.

Chico Cole played a big part in the Devils conceding just 64 goals this season (Photo: Dave Chapman)

Players to watch

Having topped the league scoring charts last season with 85 points, veteran forward Richard Facey was even better this time around – once again scoring the most points of anyone in the league as he reached exactly 100 points (43 goals and 57 assists). Player-coach Alex Murray was third in league scoring with 30+57=87, while Canadian forward Drew Campbell came out of retirement in October and put up 18+28=46 in 23 games.

At the other end of the ice, netminder Christian “Chico” Cole once again impressed as he put up a save percentage of 92.86%. Alex Cole, Daniel Lackey and Mason Wild all impressed on the blueline and helped the Devils concede the fewest goals-per-game of any side this season, as they let in just 2.29 per game.

———-

Oxford City Stars

The retiring Darren Elliott will play his final game (or games?) for Oxford this weekend (Photo: Kevin Slyfield)

Story of their season

As reigning league champions, Oxford came into the season with a target on their back. After winning their first six on the bounce, they then suffered a surprising 3-2 home defeat against Guildford.

They bounced back from that, winning their next three games, before a 4-2 away defeat against the Devils on the 1st of December.

Ten consecutive wins followed, before another defeat to the Devils stopped their momentum, this time a 6-2 defeat in Oxford.

Their fourth and final defeat came against Romford at home at the end of March, just a week after they had beaten leaders Slough in overtime to give them an outside chance of lifting the title.

The Stars finished the season with wins against Chelmsford and Cardiff, allowing them to clinch third place in the league, and they finished three points back from Slough and Solent.

They will be hoping to make up for losing their league title by taking the playoff crown at Bracknell on finals weekend.

Josh Florey was one of several Oxford defencemen who impressed this season (Photo: James Assinder)

Players to watch

Unlike last season, in which they were the best offensive team in the league with 8.58 goals scored per game, the Stars were the least goal-happy of the top four sides this time around as they fell to 6.32 goals per game. Their top scorer was player-coach Lee Richardson with 53 points (20 goals and 33 assists), which was good enough for 11th in league scoring, while Michal Oravec was just behind with 17+34=51. The Stars were hurt by the departure of Joe Edwards to NIHL South 1 side Milton Keynes back in February – he had scored 14+15=29 in just 16 games at that point.

At the other end of the ice, their defence was solid as they conceded just 2.5 goals a game, with veterans Dominic Hopkins, Alex Staples and forward-turned-defenceman Josh Florey all impressing. The Stars used four netminders this season, with John Dibble (94.07%) and Milan Ronai (91.35%) putting up the best save percentages.

Head to Head

As mentioned above, the Devils won both of the games between the sides this season. They beat the Stars 4-2 on the 1st of December at home, with Solent goals coming from Daniel Lackey (two), Richard Facey and Alex Murray; while Josh Florey and Lee Richardson netted for the Stars.

The second clash took place in Oxford on the 9th of March, with the Devils taking a big 6-2 road win thanks to goals from Alex Trendall (hat-trick), Richard Facey (two) and Drew Campbell. Oxford’s goals came from Josh Oliver and Michal Oravec.

Posted in Weekend Preview

April 5th, 2019 by Laurence Thorn

After a long campaign stretching back to September, we have finally reached the final weekend of the regular season – with the title race still hanging in the balance.

League leaders Slough and chasers Solent are level on 49 points apiece with one game left each – and with Slough holding the tie-break over Solent, a win for the Jets on Saturday will seal the title for Lukas Smital’s side.

Saturday

Bristol Pitbulls vs Lee Valley Lions

It’s a battle of dogs vs cats in Oxford as the tenth-placed Bristol welcome bottom side Lee Valley, in the last game of the season for both sides.

The Pitbulls will have an eye on overtaking Peterborough for ninth in the table if they win this game and the Phantoms lose against Slough, so will be motivated to end their season on a high. They will also hope that it is their last “home” game in Oxford, with the club planning to move into a new rink in Bristol as soon as possible. The Pitbulls handed a debut to female netminder Gemma Davies, usually of the Swindon Topcats in the Women’s Elite League, in their game against the Solent Devils last weekend, and she put in a top performance to limit the title chasers to just two powerplay goals in a very tight 2-1 win for the Devils. The lone scorer for the Pitbulls was Steve Osman, who scored his 20th goal of the season.

The Lions did not play last weekend, with their previous game coming two weeks back as they went down 10-2 at home to the NIHL2 Raiders. Czech forward Tom Hnilica reached the 20 goal mark for the season in that game as he scored a brace, and will be hoping to grab a few more goals to end the season well. The Lions have taken one win this season – away at Swindon in January – and will be looking to end the season with a good performance on the road here.

With the Pitbulls still playing for a potential league placing, expect them to have too much for the Lions in this game and to be favourites for the win.

Solent Devils vs Basingstoke Buffalo

An absolute must-win game for the Devils down on the south coast, as they welcome fellow Hampshire side Basingstoke to Gosport.

The home team know they must score more points than the Jets, who play away at Peterborough, in order to have a chance of taking the title – so the Devils simply have to win and cross their fingers that the Jets drop points against the Phantoms. The Devils haven’t been at their free-scoring best in their last few games, taking 5-0 and 2-1 wins over Invicta and Bristol respectively after going down 5-4 in a shootout against Chelmsford a few weeks back. But they have still only lost three games all season – all to fellow top-four sides – so are massive favourites to win this game and heap the pressure on Slough.

The Buffalo still have an outside chance of moving up a spot to 12th in the league, but in order to do so they will have to win this game on the road in Gosport, which is not an easy task. Earlier this season, these two sides met in Basingstoke and the Buffalo kept it close for two periods, before slipping to a narrow 4-2 defeat. The Devils will not want a repeat of that game, and will want to make a statement here by taking a big win that gives them that chance of winning the league title.

With everything riding on this game for the Devils, expect their big-name players to step up and lead them to a win. Whether that will be enough to take the league crown – we’ll have to wait and see.

Chelmsford Chieftains vs Oxford City Stars

A few weeks ago, this looked like it may be a battle that decided the league title. Instead, with both teams out of the title race, it could help to decide who finishes third in the league this season – with both sides level on 44 points with two games to play.

The Chieftains started the season like a house on fire, winning their first nine games on the bounce to mark themselves out as title contenders. However, once their Riverside rink closed for refurbishment and they had to play the majority of their games on the road, their form dipped somewhat and they have now lost five games, more than any other side in the top four. They do however have the top-scoring offence in the league, having scored 201 goals so far this season – the only side to pass 200 at this stage. And they also have the top-scoring player in the league in forward Ross Brears, who has a barely-believable 42 goals and 52 assists this season for 94 points.

Oxford’s chances of retaining their league title evaporated last weekend as they went down 5-3 to the NIHL2 Raiders. Both sides fielded teenage netminders, with Brad Windebank in net for the Raiders and Daniel Treuherz between the pipes for Oxford. Goals from Josh Florey, Josh Oliver and Matthew Lawday weren’t enough for the Stars, as Windebank made 47 saves to back-stop his Romford side to victory. That defeat for Oxford officially eliminated them from the title chase, so they can now focus fully on winning both their games this weekend to finish third heading into the playoffs.

This game is a hard one to predict, with Oxford having won 3-1 at home earlier this season in a tight tussle. The result could go either way here in a battle of two very strong teams.

It should also be noted that Chelmsford have one more game scheduled after this, at home to Cardiff – but as of yet, no date for this game has been found, so it looks likely to be awarded 0-0 with each team taking one point, if a new date cannot be found before the playoffs.

Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Slough Jets

it all comes down to this for the league-leading Jets, with their destiny in their own hands. Win this game, and the league title will be heading to Slough. But they must be wary of the Phantoms, who could play the role of banana skin in this game.

Peterborough have had a very up-and-down season, and after defeat against Bracknell last weekend now sit ninth in the table. They could move up to eighth, or drop to tenth, or even stay where they are depending on results this weekend, and will be looking to finish off a tough campaign with a win that gives them the best possible chance of a top eight finish. In Conor Pollard, the Phantoms have one of the best forwards in the league – he has bagged 31 goals and a further 26 assists for 57 points this season, leading his side from the front.

The Jets finally saw their 24-game (!) winning streak come to an end two weekends ago in a thrilling tussle against Oxford – but crucially the Jets took the game to OT, gaining a point and keeping their destiny in their own hands ahead of the Solent Devils. If Slough and Solent finish level on points, the first tie-break will be head-to-head results; and with the Jets having beaten the Devils twice this season, they have this advantage. So they “simply” need to take both points on the road in Peterborough on Saturday to be crowned league champions.

The pressure will be on for the Jets – but they have played such a fantastic season and won a lot of big games already, so they are favourites here. Whatever happens, it should be a tense evening…

Sunday

Oxford City Stars vs Cardiff Fire

In the only game on Sunday, the Stars play their final home game of the season, against a Cardiff side who may or may not have another game to play against Chelmsford after this one (depending on whether a date can be found).

For Oxford, as well as looking for a win to finish third, they will also look to send club stalwart Darren Elliott out on a high in his last ever competitive game at Oxpens Road. Elliott, known as “Mr Oxford”, has played for the club almost continuously since 1996 with only a few seasons away from his home club. Over the years. he has acted as captain and player-coach at the Stars, and earlier this season announced his retirement from the game. He will get a testimonial game in June, but this will be the last time he dons the Oxford jersey in a competitive game on home ice, and it’s sure to be an emotional night for the home fans.

The Fire will have their eye on keeping their eighth position that they currently hold ahead of Peterborough. They are on good form, having won their last three games against Haringey (twice) and Invicta – although Oxford will be a tougher task for the Welsh side. These two sides met in Cardiff back in January, with the Stars taking a 5-0 win on the road thanks to goals from Tom Davis, Conor Redmond, Michal Oravec, Lee Richardson and Joe Edwards, with a 38-shot shutout for John Dibble.

The Stars will be looking to win by a similar scoreline here and win their final home game before the playoff finals weekend in Bracknell, and they have to be considered favourites for this one.


Fixture information

Saturday
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Lee Valley Lions
17:00 Solent Devils vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Oxford City Stars
18:15 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Slough Jets

Sunday
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs Cardiff Fire


NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings
Note: Basingstoke’s home game vs Cardiff has been awarded as a 0-0 draw due to ice issues.

Posted in Weekend Preview

March 28th, 2019 by Laurence Thorn

There are just two weekends to go in the NIHL South 2 season and the destination of the league title has still not been decided – while the Slough Jets still have their destiny in their own hands, their overtime defeat to the Oxford City Stars last Saturday means things aren’t settled just yet.

Both the Solent Devils in second and Oxford in third still have a shot of claiming the crown, and both are in action once this weekend while Slough have the weekend off.

Saturday

Bristol Pitbulls vs Solent Devils

The Solent Devils continue their title quest on Saturday as they travel to Oxford to take on the Bristol Pitbulls.

The Pitbulls went down 8-4 to third placed Chelmsford last weekend, a result which meant they dropped one spot to tenth in the table behind Cardiff. Steve Osman grabbed a hat-trick and Jamie Newton also lit the lamp against the Chieftains, but netminder Andrew Leckie couldn’t stop eight Chelmsford goals from going past him as the Pitbulls suffered defeat. They will be looking to make amends in this game, in what will hopefully be their penultimate “home” game in their adopted rink of Oxford, as they hope to move into a new rink in Bristol next season.

The Devils kept their title hopes alive last weekend with a 5-0 win on the road against potential banana skins Invicta. Alex Murray and Drew Campbell both scored braces with Richard Facey scoring the other goal, while netminder Chico Cole kept a 24 shot shutout, to give the Devils their 23rd win of the season, putting them two points behind leaders Slough with a game in hand.

All the Devils can do now is win their last two games at Bristol and at home to Basingstoke, and hope the Jets slip up against Peterborough in their final game. With the title firmly in their sights, the Devils will be very motivated for this one, and should be too much for the Pitbulls.

Guildford Phoenix vs Basingstoke Buffalo

Fifth placed Guildford complete their season at home on Saturday, against a Basingstoke side still hoping to move up one or two spots in the table.

The Phoenix are already confirmed in their fifth place and cannot be caught, and were involved in a chippy game last Saturday as they went down 7-5 at the Hive to the sixth placed Bracknell Hornets. The game erupted at the 50:58 mark, with three separate fights going on including a scrap between goalies(!) Jacob Stoodley and Mark Duffy. Away from the penalty boxes, the game was a real thriller with Guildford coming back from 6-2 down to 6-5, almost leveling the scores, before conceding a late empty netter to lose 7-5. On target for the Phoenix were Bailey Wootton, Luke Tull (both x2) and Josh Abbott.

While the Phoenix already know where they will finish this season, the Buffalo are still in with a chance of passing Haringey and/or Invicta to secure 12th or even 11th place in the standings. They are two points behind the Huskies after defeating the North London side 9-6 at Ally Pally last weekend; and are also two points behind the Mustangs. With the Huskies now having finished their season and the Mustangs facing a tough trip to Cardiff to end their season, the Buffalo have two games in which to make up the points gap. Although it will be tough, with their remaining two games coming against Guildford on Saturday, and title-chasing Solent next week.

On target for the Buffalo at the Palace last Saturday were Samuel Brooks (x3), Warren Jones (x2), Marcus Russell, Jason Newman, Cameron Buckle and Sam Dollin; with netminder Aaron Burton making 41 saves.

This could be a tighter game than the league table suggests – if the Phoenix rest on their laurels a bit, they could be upset by a Buffalo team that still has something to play for.

Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Bracknell Hornets

An big game in the battle for spots six down to eight takes place in Peterborough on Saturday, with the Phantoms in eighth welcoming the Hornets who currently lie in sixth – four points and two places ahead.

The Phantoms had the last two weekends off, with their last game coming on the 10th of March as they lost heavily in Romford to the NIHL2 Raiders, going down 10-1. Nick Alley had scored to put the Phantoms in the lead after just 54 seconds, but the Phantoms then proceeded to concede ten goals without reply in the remainder of the contest and fall to a heavy defeat. That result means that the Phantoms cannot finish above the Raiders (currently in seventh) if they finish level on points – but Peterborough could still finish ahead of the Hornets if they win their last two games. There’s a lot of complicated maths to come in the next few weeks for sure as we try to keep up with all the table permutations.

The Hornets are playing their last game of the season in this one, and can guarantee themselves a finish ahead of the Phantoms if they take at least a point from the game. It’s been a strange season for the Berkshire side, with a lot of ups and downs in the calendar year 2019 so far. However their last two games have been impressive 7-2 and 7-5 wins against the Raiders and Guildford respectively, and they will hope to end the season on a high here with a third consecutive win – which would see them end the season with a winning record of 15-13.

This game is very tricky to call – but on current form, the Hornets may have the slight edge.

Sunday

Cardiff Fire vs Invicta Mustangs

A Cardiff side buoyed by back-to-back wins over Haringey welcome the Invicta Mustangs to the Viola Arena on Sunday for the Mustangs’ last game of the season.

The Fire were impressive last Sunday, beating Haringey 10-3 at home to move back up to ninth in the table ahead of Bristol. Tamas Elias, Jordan Powell and Morgan Evans all scored braces for the Fire, with single goals for Ricky Deacon, Phil Manny, Iwan Davies and Jackson Price, to give the Fire their second win over the Huskies in as many weeks. The Fire have three games left including this one, and could potentially finish as high as sixth in the table – although one of their  remaining games against Chelmsford currently has not been scheduled for any date, and could end up being awarded 0-0.

The Mustangs lie in 11th place, level on points with Haringey but ahead on head-to-head results. There is still an outside chance that Basingstoke can catch and pass them, so this is an important game for the Kent side as they look to end their season on a high. They went down 5-0 at home to title aspirants Solent last Saturday, with netminder Matthew Passmore once again performing heroics in turning away 57 of 62 shots, but the Mustangs were unable to score at the other end and were thus shut out.

This is an intriguing game with both sides still having something to play for – as the home side, the Fire probably have the edge here, but the Mustangs won’t go down without a fight.

Oxford City Stars vs NIHL2 Raiders

Perhaps the biggest game of the weekend takes place on Oxpens Road on Sunday evening, as title chasing Oxford host the NIHL2 Raiders.

The Stars took a crucial victory over league leaders Slough on Saturday, winning a thriller on the road by a scoreline of 5-4 after overtime. On target for the yellows were Matthew Lawday (x2), Josh Florey, Tom Davis, and overtime hero Alex Staples who put away the winning goal at the 64:11 mark and thus broke Slough’s 24 game winning streak. Despite that result, Oxford are still somewhat outside bets to take the title, with Slough still having destiny in their own hands. The Stars will be giving everything in their remaining three games – this one against the Raiders, and back-to-back ties against Chelmsford and Cardiff next weekend – as they look to retain the league title they won a year ago.

The Raiders bounced back from some recent poor results by taking a comfortable 10-2 win on the road against bottom club Lee Valley last Sunday. Brandon Webster had two goals and four assists on the night, with other goals coming from Tommy Huggett, George Gell, Ewan Hill (all x2), Samuel Austin and Jake Hall, as the Romford side banished the memories of the previous weekend in which they had slipped to two defeats, conceding 16 goals in the process. The Raiders are now level on points with the Bracknell Hornets ahead, with both sides playing their last games this weekend. The Raiders will hope that the Hornets lose, and that they can pull off an upset against Oxford, in order to move up to sixth in the table to end the season.

The favourites here are definitely Oxford though, as they will be totally focused on taking a win which will keep them in the title picture for at least another week.


Fixture information

Saturday
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Solent Devils
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Basingstoke Buffalo
18:15 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Bracknell Hornets

Sunday
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Invicta Mustangs
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs NIHL2 Raiders


NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings
Note: Basingstoke’s home game vs Cardiff has been awarded as a 0-0 draw due to ice issues.

Posted in Weekend Preview

March 23rd, 2019 by Laurence Thorn

With just three weekends to go in the NIHL South 2 season and four teams still with a mathematical chance of taking the league title, there’s still all to play for.

This weekend’s main event is without doubt the clash between leaders Slough and third placed Oxford; while other title contenders Solent and Chelmsford are also in action on Saturday.

Saturday

Invicta Mustangs vs Solent Devils

Fresh off a double-header against title rivals Chelmsford in which they took three points, the Devils know only a win will do as they travel to Kent to take on the Mustangs.

Invicta currently sit 11th, level on points with Haringey behind and with both teams having two games yet to play. The Mustangs went down 6-2 at home to title contenders Oxford last Saturday, with Joseph Bliss and Regan O’Neil getting the goals for the home side. The Mustangs have a tough end to the season, with today’s visit of the Devils followed up by a road trip to Cardiff to face the fire next weekend.

The Devils played out two thrillers against Chelmsford last weekend, taking a 8-5 home win in Gosport on Saturday and following that up with a tense 5-4 shootout loss on the road on Sunday. Richard Facey scored a combined four goals across the two games, while Mitchell Murray had a goal and six assists in total. Those results netted the Devils three points, which puts them three points behind leaders Slough with a game in hand. Solent know that only wins will do from here, and they still need to hope that the Jets slip up somewhere in order to take the league crown.

There is a lot riding on this game for the Devils – and while Invicta can be tough opponents, Solent are definite favourites to take the win here and keep the pressure on the Jets ahead.

Chelmsford Chieftains vs Bristol Pitbulls

The Chieftains still have a slim mathematical chance of taking the league title after their win against Solent last Sunday, and today take on a Bristol side against whom they slipped up earlier this season.

It was back in November that the Chieftains suffered defeat at the hands of the Pitbulls, going down 3-2 in overtime to an Olly Shone winning goal. It was the Chieftains’ second defeat of the season after winning 10 of their opening 11 games, and is a game they may look back on as one that potentially cost them a shot at the league title.

The Chieftains scored two points from a possible four last weekend, going down 8-5 in Gosport to the Devils but then grabbing two points after a shootout win at their adopted home rink at Lee Valley. James Ayling was the Chieftains’ best scorer last weekend, scoring a total of three goals and four assists for seven points over the two games.

The ninth placed Pitbulls come into this game off the back of a big win of their own last weekend against the Bracknell Hornets, as they won 4-1 to move to within three points of the Hornets, having played one game less. Olly Shone scored twice while there were single goals from Giacomo Raffaelli and Steve Osman, as the Pitbulls avenged a 4-1 defeat to the Hornets earlier in the season. Bristol are now well into the battle for sixth place in the league, which looks like it could go right down to the last game of the season.

The Pitbulls are a potential banana skin for the Chieftains, as the game earlier this season proved. But with the Chieftains knowing that they cannot afford to drop any more points, they should have enough in the bag to get the win here.

Haringey Huskies vs Basingstoke Buffalo

An intriguing game goes down at Ally Pally between two neighbours in the table, as Haringey in 12th welcome Basingstoke in 13th.

The Huskies hosted Cardiff last Sunday, and slipped to their fourth successive defeat as they went down 5-3 to the Fire. Gheorghe Dragomir scored two goals and James Hepburn grabbed one, but it wasn’t quite enough for the Huskies to take the win. That result kept the Huskies in 12th, behind the Mustangs and ahead of today’s opponents who are four points behind but with a game in hand. This game against Basingstoke is the Huskies’ first of two games this weekend, as on Sunday they travel to Cardiff for the return game against the Fire.

The Buffalo won an eleven goal thriller against the Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats last weekend to clinch a minimum of 13th in the table and ensure that the Wildcats will finish behind them this season. Basingstoke got goals from Samuel Brooks, Warren Jones (both x2), Cameron Buckle and Sam Dollin, to take their first win in eight games. It was their second 6-5 win recently, after winning by the same margin at Lee Valley last month too, in what had been their last win at that point.

With the Buffalo still mathematically able to catch and pass the Huskies for 12th place, this game is important for both sides. The Huskies may have the slight edge at home, but it should be a close one.

Slough Jets vs Oxford City Stars

It’s time for the big one: leaders Slough, who have now won 24 games in a row, welcome a third placed Oxford side who know that only a win will do to keep them in the title hunt.

One of the two games that the Jets have lost this season was away to Oxford way back on the 15th of September, and it was a heavy 8-2 defeat too. However, the Jets have improved a lot since then, adding some fresh faces to the line-up and playing superb four-line hockey, no matter the opponent. They now know that the title is in their own hands – if they win their last two games against Oxford and Peterborough, nobody can catch them.

The Stars will be doing their best to take the win here, and will be hoping to repeat that aforementioned win over the Jets back in September. It’s been a pretty successful season for Oxford, as they have only lost three times – twice to Solent and once to Guildford – yet they still find themselves in third in the league, which shows how dominant the top sides have been this season.

There are many players to watch on both sides, as both teams can boast plenty of scoring power. Jets player-coach Lukas Smital has 78 points in just 17 games, while Sean Norris (73) and Sam Talbot (58) have also impressed in their first seasons in this league. Meanwhile, Oxford player-coach Lee Richardson is their top scorer with 47 points, with Michal Oravec next up on 44 points. The Jets have scored 7.4 goals per game this season compared to Oxford’s 6.7, but have conceded slightly more per game (2.8 per game compared to Oxford’s 2.5).

This should be a cracker, and is extremely hard to predict. What is for sure is that it’s one of the most important games of the season for both sides. Bring it on!

Bracknell Hornets vs Guildford Phoenix

The Hornets look to take vital points in the battle for sixth in the league, as they welcome fifth placed Guildford to the Hive.

The Hornets had a mixed weekend last time out, going down 4-1 on the road to Bristol on Saturday but then comprehensively beating the NIHL Raiders 7-2 on Sunday, also on the road. That enabled them to leapfrog the Raiders into sixth in the table on head-to-head results, with both teams level on 28 points. With the likes of Peterborough, Bristol and Cardiff still also in the battle, the Hornets will be looking to take a win here to secure that sixth spot, and exercise some damage limitation on what has been a difficult season for the Berkshire side.

A win won’t be easy though, as they come up against a red-hot Guildford side. The Phoenix secured fifth place in the league with a 9-2 win over Lee Valley last Sunday, and have only lost one of their last nine outings. Andy Hemmings (49 points) and Josh Abbott (47 points) are both in the top ten in league scoring, while Jared Lane (34) and Bailey Wootton (33) are also having impressive seasons.

This should be be a good game –  the Hornets won 4-3 on the road in the return fixture earlier in the season, and this could be another close one.

Sunday

Lee Valley Lions vs NIHL2 Raiders

The Lions play their last home game of the season as they welcome the Raiders to Lee Valley Ice Centre.

Bottom club Lee Valley went down 9-2 on the road in Guildford last week, with Conner Smith and Richard Hodge grabbing their goals. As has been their way in recent away games, they put up a good fight in the early stages before tiring later on and shipping a number of late goals. Star of the show against Guildford was netminder James Andrew, who stopped 68 of 77 shots(!) against the Phoenix and kept his side in it for longer than they otherwise would have been.

The Raiders had a poor weekend, losing twice to slip from sixth to seventh in the table. They also conceded 16 goals over the two games. The Raiders took a 3-0 lead in Slough against the league-leading Jets on Saturday before going down 9-4, before a 7-2 home defeat to Bracknell who were directly behind them in the table. The Romford side only have two games left, this one and then a trip to Oxford next weekend, so will know this is a must-win game for them if they still have hopes of moving up a spot in the league.

Expect a Raiders win here as they look to finish as high up the table as possible.

Cardiff Fire vs Haringey Huskies

The Huskies are in action for the second time this weekend, as they hit the road for their very last game of the season and make the trip to Cardiff to take on the Fire.

These two sides met just last week in North London, with the Fire taking a 5-3 win thanks to goals from Viktor Langseth, Josh Haslam, Jackson Price, Elis Sheppard and an empty netter from Jordan Powell. The Fire still have four games to play this season, and could potentially reach as high as sixth place if other results go their way too. The win against the Huskies was their first in five games stretching back to mid-February, so came at a crucial time for the Welsh side. Now they look to repeat the feat at home one week later.

The Huskies will look to finish the season on a high, although time will tell how large a roster they are able to take to Wales on a Sunday night. That could be one of the keys to this game, which should be a fairly close one if both sides are able to ice strong rosters.


Fixture information

Saturday
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Solent Devils
17:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Bristol Pitbulls
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:45 Slough Jets vs Oxford City Stars
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Guildford Phoenix

Sunday
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs NIHL2 Raiders
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Haringey Huskies


NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings
Note: Basingstoke’s home game vs Cardiff has been awarded as a 0-0 draw due to ice issues.

Posted in Weekend Preview

March 16th, 2019 by Laurence Thorn

It’s another crunch weekend as we head towards the end of the NIHL South 2 season, with all clubs except Peterborough in action.

Headlining the weekend are two huge games between Solent and Chelmsford at the top of the table, while leaders Slough and reigning champions Oxford each play on Saturday.

Saturday

Solent Devils vs Chelmsford Chieftains

Kicking off the weekend is the first of two games between second placed Solent and fourth placed Chelmsford, this one being played in Gosport.

The Devils are now on a 18 game winning streak following a vital 6-2 away win at Oxford last Saturday, and are four points behind leaders with Slough having played two games less. Alex Trendall grabbed a hat-trick against the Stars, with further goals coming from Richard Facey (x2) and Drew Campbell, while netminder Chico Cole turned away 40 of 42 Oxford shots to secure the win. That win keeps Solent on track to challenge the Jets for the league title, but they still have to hope that Slough slip up somewhere – if the two sides finish level on points come the end of the season, the Jets would win the tiebreak.

The Chieftains had a superb start to the season, taking advantage of a home game-heavy schedule to lead the standings early on. They have now dropped to fourth, level on points with Oxford and two behind the Devils, and it’s been a full three weeks since their last game in which they beat Bracknell 7-1. With the two games against Solent this weekend, and a clash against Oxford still to come, there are still some big ties to come for the Chieftains this season as they look to claim the title.

It is difficult to call these two games, and a win apiece would not be the most surprising outcome. Solent’s strong home form – they have only lost once at home all season, that defeat coming against the Jets – may give them the edge in the Saturday game.

Bristol Pitbulls vs Bracknell Hornets

Two sides looking to end a difficult season on a high clash in Oxford on Saturday, as the Hornets travel to face the Pitbulls.

Bristol currently sit ninth in the table, one place and three points behind today’s opponents Bracknell. The season has never quite got going for the Pitbulls, with RIchard Hargreaves’ side only once winning two games in a row. Nonetheless, a 3-1 win over Basingstoke last weekend has given them the hope that they can perhaps move up a few places in the table, provided that they take the win today. Goals for the Pitbulls in Basingstoke were scored by Adam Coakley, Olly Shone and Adrian Smith, while goaltender Ross Miller capped off a good weekend by stopping 25 of 26 shots to backstop them to victory. Miller had been called up by NIHL North 1 side Telford the previous evening, and he starred in net there too as he stopped 28 of 29 shots to help Telford to a win over Blackburn.

The Hornets have won their last two games to get some semblance of order back in their season, but nonetheless a win-loss record of 12-12 wasn’t what the Berkshire side were hoping for coming into the season. They took their first shutout of the season last Saturday against Basingstoke, as Mark Duffy stopped all 26 Buffalo shots and the Hornets got goals from Josh Ealey-Newman (x2), Connor Hutchison, Will Stead, Casey Wilson – his first senior goal – and Ben Ealey-Newman to take a comfortable 6-0 win.

With both sides hoping to end the season with a flourish, this could be an intense game with any result possible. These two sides met in Bracknell way back in October with the Hornets taking a 4-1 win, so the Pitbulls will hope to avenge that defeat here.

Invicta Mustangs vs Oxford City Stars

It’s a must-win game for reigning league champions Oxford on Saturday, as they travel to Kent to take on the 11th placed Mustangs.

Invicta put in a great performance last Saturday against a Haringey side directly above them in the table, beating the Huskies 6-3 on the road and moving up to 11th ahead of the North London side. Goals for the Mustangs came from Anthony Baskerville, Richard Harris (both x2), Joseph Bliss and Bradley Gutridge, while netminder Matthew Passmore was impressive yet again as he stopped 37 of 40 Huskies shots. The Mustangs have now won back-to-back games for only the second time this season.

Oxford were shocked 6-2 at home by Solent on Saturday, as they actually out-shot the Devils 42-41 but couldn’t crack the code of Solent netminder Chico Cole, while shipping six goals themselves. On the scoresheet on a night to forget for the Stars were Josh Oliver and Michal Oravec. And while they were able to bounce back with a home win against Haringey the following day, the scoreline of 5-3 was a bit too close for comfort for the title-chasers. Goals against Haringey came from Matthew Lawday (x2), Oravec, Martyn Gray and Darren Elliott.

Oxford now sit six points behind leaders Slough with only two games in hand; but they still have to face the Jets next Saturday in Slough, so the title race isn’t quite over for Oxford. But they have to win out from here – and this game in Kent could potentially be a tricky one, and we all remember the fate that befell then-leaders Chelmsford when they played away against the Mustangs earlier this season…

Slough Jets vs NIHL2 Raiders

After a five game road trip in which they took five wins, scored 47 goals and conceded just nine(!) the Jets are back at home on Saturday, looking to extend their winning streak to 24 games and stay on course for the league title. But they will have tough opposition in the form of the sixth placed Raiders.

The Jets welcomed back player-coach Lukas Smital last weekend after a two month ban, and it was like he had never been away as he collected eight points in two dominant wins at Lee Valley (15-4) and Swindon (8-2). The Jets really showed their squad depth in those two games, as Sean Norris (fifth in league scoring) only played against Swindon and Sam Talbot (eighth in league scoring) missed both games, yet the Jets still grabbed 23 goals over the course of the weekend. 16-year-old Luke Smital played on a line with his father on Saturday, and rewarded that faith with a goal and two assists; while Adam Rosbottom had a weekend to remember as he scored six goals over the two games to increase his goal tally for the season to ten.

The Raiders celebrated a dominant win of their own on Sunday; Peterborough went into a quick 1-0 lead through Nick Alley, but the Raiders fought back with ten unanswered goals to finish up with a 10-1 win at the Sapphire. Tommy Huggett grabbed a hat-trick against the Phantoms while there was a goal apiece for Sam Roberts, Thomas Baptist, Callum Burnett, Jake Hall, George Gell, Daniel Hitchings and Ewan Hill. The Raiders are still four points behind fifth placed Guildford with one game in hand, so will still hold out hope of moving up one place before the end of the season if results go their way.

Expect the red-hot Jets to win this game and move one step closer to the league title though; they won 7-2 in Romford back in January without Lukas Smital in the line-up, and are favourites to win their 24th game in a row here.

Sunday

Haringey Huskies vs Cardiff Fire

Two teams that dropped a place in the league last weekend meet at Ally Pally, as 12th placed Haringey host 10th placed Cardiff.

The Huskies played twice last weekend and lost both games; they would have been disappointed with Saturday’s 6-3 home defeat to Invicta that saw them drop to 12th in the table behind the Mustangs, while Sunday’s narrow 5-3 defeat in Oxford would have restored some of the side’s confidence. Joseph Willingham scored a goal apiece in the two games, with single goals coming from Bryn Griffiths and Stephen Woodford on Saturday and from James Hepburn and Gheorghe Dragomir on Sunday.

The Fire went down 5-3 to Guildford at the Spectrum last Sunday, which coupled with Bristol’s win against Basingstoke caused Cardiff to drop to 10th in the standings. The Fire got goals from Jordan Powell, Cameron Basnett and Lewis Stevens in Surrey, and also got strong goaltending from James Whiting who stopped 42 of 46 Guildford shots, but couldn’t stop Phoenix forward Josh Abbott who scored four goals and led Guildford to victory. It is now exactly a month since Cardiff’s last win, which came in Romford back in February, and they will hope to return to winning ways here.

These sides have not yet faced off this season, with the return fixture scheduled for next Sunday, so predicting a winner in this one is tricky. Any result is possible.

Chelmsford Chieftains vs Solent Devils

In the return fixture from Saturday, the Devils travel to East London to face Chelmsford at the Chieftains’ adopted home rink at Lee Valley.

The Chieftains have so far only played two home games at Lee Valley, winning them both comfortably 8-3 and 7-1 against Invicta and Bracknell respectively. But Solent are a different calibre of opponent altogether, and the Devils have only lost once on the road all the season, that coming against Slough.

These two sides of course met in last season’s playoff final in Bracknell, with the Devils taking a huge 6-1 victory to lift the NIHL South 2 playoff crown. Scorers for the Devils on the day were Mark Pitts (x2), Mitchell Murray, Alex Trendall, Richard Facey and Alex Murray – all five are still with the Devils, as is netminder Chico Cole who stopped 32 of 33 shots in that final. Goalscorer for the Chieftains in the final was Michal Oravec, who now plays for Oxford.

It will be very intriguing to see how the two games this weekend between the sides play out, with both teams desperate for victories to keep their respective title charges intact.

NIHL2 Raiders vs Bracknell Hornets

Both the Raiders and Hornets play their second game of the weekend on Sunday as they clash in Romford. It is the second road game of the weekend for the Hornets.

The two teams met in Bracknell back in January, with the Raiders taking an important 4-3 road win at the Hive. Goals for the Raiders in that game come from Ewan Hill (x2), Sam Roberts and Callum Burnett, with the Hornets getting goals from Jack Tarczycki, Danny Hughes and Jakub Fojtik. In fact, that was the game that started the six-game losing streak that caused the Hornets to drop away from playoff contention and down into eighth place.

The Hornets will hope to get revenge for that defeat here, and a win would see them leapfrog Peterborough into seventh place. Meanwhile, the Raiders will look to close the gap to fifth placed Guildford ahead with a win.

Both sides have something to play for, and it should be a good game to watch.

Basingstoke Buffalo vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats

The NIHL2 Wildcats play their last game of the season on Sunday –  the first team to do so – as they travel to Basingstoke to face the Buffalo.

If the Wildcats win, they will move level on points with the Buffalo and overtake them for 13th in the table – albeit the Buffalo will have three games in hand to get the place back.

These two teams met in Swindon last month, with the Wildcats dominating proceedings and coming away with a big 8-1 win thanks to goals from Mason Lipsey (x3), Reed Sayers, Alexander Quant (both x2) and William Harding. The sole Buffalo goal on the night came from Warren Jones.

The Buffalo have struggled for consistency all season long, winning five games but never winning back-to-back matches. They have now lost seven in a row stretching back to an 11-goal-thriller against bottom club Lee Valley in which they came out 6-5 winners on the road. They lost both games last weekend, going down 6-0 in Bracknell and 3-1 at home to Bristol.

The Wildcats have lost their last three games, but all to top six opponents. Their form since January has been strong though, winning four games to move to within two points of Sunday’s opponents. This should be an interesting game given the league placings of the two teams, and Swindon may have the edge considering their recent form.

Guildford Phoenix vs Lee Valley Lions

The weekend is rounded off in Surrey as bottom club Lee Valley travel to the Spectrum to take on Guildford.

The Phoenix lie in fifth place, and further cemented that position with a 5-3 win against Cardiff last weekend. Josh Abbott was on fire in that game, scoring four goals, with the other tally coming from Bailey Wootton. The Phoenix have now won seven of their last eight games, and definitely look like the best of the rest after the top four sides. If they win all their remaining games this season, they will be rewarded with fifth place in the league – one place better than last season, and pretty impressive for a side that was only formed 18 months ago.

The Lions lost as expected to Slough last weekend, going down 15-4 at home to the league leaders. Lee Valley were only able to ice 12 skaters with numerous players missing, and that soon became 11 as influential all-rounder Gus Zimmerman suffered an ankle injury early on which required surgery. The Lions did keep the game close until the halfway point, before tired legs got to them and the Jets ran away with the game. Goals against the Jets came from Tom Hnilica (x2) – who now has 18 goals in 18 games this season – Joe Berry and Joe Miller.

Earlier this season, the two sides met at Lee Valley with the Phoenix coming away with an 8-3 win. Expect another win for Guildford here as they look to cement fifth place.


Fixture information

Saturday
17:00 Solent Devils vs Chelmsford Chieftains
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Bracknell Hornets
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Oxford City Stars
17:45 Slough Jets vs NIHL2 Raiders

Sunday
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Cardiff Fire
17:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Solent Devils
17:30 NIHL2 Raiders vs Bracknell Hornets
18:15 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
18:15 Guildford Phoenix vs Lee Valley Lions


NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings
Note: Basingstoke’s home game vs Cardiff has been awarded as a 0-0 draw due to ice issues.

Posted in Weekend Preview

March 9th, 2019 by Laurence Thorn

A busy weekend lies ahead in NIHL South 2, with a crunch game between third placed Solent and fourth placed Oxford on Saturday.

Oxford are also in action on Sunday as they face Haringey; while leaders Slough play road games on both Saturday and Sunday, against the league’s bottom two sides.

Saturday

Oxford City Stars vs Solent Devils

The first game to face off on Saturday is also the most important of the weekend, as two teams looking to close the gap to leaders Slough square off in Oxford.

The Stars have played one game less than the Devils and sit two points behind, having won 19 and lost just two games this season. They are also on a 10 game winning streak, stretching back to the 1st of December where they lost to… tonight’s opponents Solent. That game at Gosport was a close one, with the Devils prevailing 4-2 thanks to a brace from Daniel Lackey and further goals from Richard Facey and Alex Murray. The Oxford goals on the night came from Josh Florey and now-player coach Lee Richardson. Oxford didn’t play last weekend, so will come into this game fresh and ready for action.

Solent now find themselves level on points with second placed Chelmsford and two points behind leaders Slough, having played one game less than both of the sides in front of them. However with head-to-head results being the first tie breaker in the case that two teams finish level on points, and Slough having beaten Solent in both of their meetings this season, the Devils must finish at least one point clear of Slough in order to take the league title. Thus, the Devils must keep winning out, while hoping that the Jets drop a point somewhere.

Last weekend the Devils kept their title charge on track with a 5-1 road win at Alexandra Palace against Haringey. It wasn’t pretty, but Solent got the job done thanks to goals from Alex Trendall, Drew Campbell, Richard Facey, Ben Lock and Alex Murray. This extended their current winning streak to 17 games, stretching back to the aforementioned double loss against Slough.

This game is very tricky to call, with two high-quality teams on long winning runs facing off. It should be a great game and any result is possible.

Haringey Huskies vs Invicta Mustangs

Two more neighbours in the league table square off on Saturday, as 11th placed Haringey welcome 12th placed Invicta to Ally Pally.

The Huskies went down 5-1 at home to Solent last weekend, which wasn’t too bad a result considering the league positions of the two teams. Sam Park scored the sole Huskies goal, and was thus able to celebrate his first goal of the season. Prior to the Solent game, the Huskies had won two straight games, with wins against the NIHL2 Raiders and Bristol. They currently sit two points above today’s opponents Invicta, and have a game in hand too.

The Mustangs took an impressive 7-2 home victory over the Basingstoke Buffalo last weekend. The Buffalo brought a somewhat small roster to Kent, but nonetheless the Mustangs showed great ruthlessness in dispatching their opponents, who sit directly below them in the table. Mustangs goals on the night came from Kevin Lake (x2), Joseph Bliss, Jarvis Mewett, Harry Blake, Bradley Gutridge and Regan O’Neil.

Earlier this season, the Mustangs beat Haringey 8-3 at home. Haringey’s form has been on an upturn since then, so a similar scoreline is unlikely. Either side could win this game, and it should be a good one.

Lee Valley Lions vs Slough Jets

It’s last against first on Saturday at the Den as the Lions welcome the Jets to East London.

The Lions took a roster of 10 skaters and two netminders to Bracknell last weekend and went down 10-1. In both the first and third periods, the Lions conceded only one goal each; but it all went wrong in the middle period as they conceded eight. Gus Zimmerman scored the lone Lions goal on the night, as he bagged his eighth of the season in the third period. Earlier this season, the Lions visited Slough and lost 18-4 at the Hangar; they have added a lot of players to their roster since that point, so will hope to keep the scoreline a bit closer here.

But beating the Jets will be a very tall order indeed; their winning streak is now up to 21 games in a row, stretching back to September, and they also welcome player-coach Lukas Smital back to the lineup for this game after a two match ban. Not that it seems to have affected their on-ice form, with the Jets winning all eight games that Smital was out, scoring a total of 50 goals and conceding just 15 in that time, with two shutouts.

This is the first of two away games for the Jets, as they also visit 14th placed Swindon on Sunday. They will fully expect to take two big wins out of these games.

Bracknell Hornets vs Basingstoke Buffalo

In a game originally scheduled to take place on the 19th of January, the eighth placed Hornets welcome a Buffalo side five places below them in the table to the Hive.

The Hornets haven’t had a great time of it lately, losing seven of their last nine games; and the two wins in that time came against the league’s bottom two sides in Swindon and Lee Valley. Last weekend, Lee Valley brought a roster of just 10 skaters to Bracknell, yet the Hornets were only able to score one goal in the first period, before turning on the style in the second and eventually winning the game 10-1. Danny Hughes and Ben Ealey-Newman both celebrated hat-tricks in that game, while Josh Ealey-Newman, Connor Hutchison, Luke Jackson and Adam Bicknell grabbed a goal apiece. They will hope to take another win this weekend as they host another side from the league’s bottom three.

The Buffalo took a short bench to Invicta last weekend, with their under 18 players unavailable, and went down 7-2 to the Mustangs. Warren Jones and Mark Austen got the goals for the Buffalo, with netminder Aaron Burton once again in impressive form as he stopped 62 of the 67 shots he faced. The Buffalo did gain a point in the table during the week though, as their game against Cardiff on the 17th of November (that was abandoned due to ice issues) will not be re-played, with each team getting one point.

Earlier this season, the Hornets won 6-2 in Basingstoke. A similar result here would not be too much of a surprise.

Sunday

NIHL2 Raiders vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms

Two sides level on points in the tightly-packed mid-table region square off at the Sapphire on Sunday, as the Raiders in sixth host the Phantoms just one place behind them.

The Raiders got back to winning ways last weekend with an 8-2 win over Swindon, having lost their previous three games in a row. Tommy Huggett grabbed a hat-trick for the Raiders while Ewan Hill scored a brace and further goals came from Brandon Webster, George Gell and Daniel Hitchings. It was a much-needed return to form for the Romford side, with Guildford now four points ahead – albeit having played one game more.

The Phantoms also won last weekend, taking a huge 6-4 road victory in Cardiff despite only bringing 13 skaters to Wales. Netminder Dan Lane was one of the heroes on the night, stopping 55 of 59 shots he faced, while Clint Herring (x2), Jack Sansby, Nick Alley, Kenny Bavin and Conor Pollard chipped in with the goals. That result means the Phantoms remain level on points with Sunday’s opponents Romford, but have played two games more. In fact the Phantoms have played 25 games already this season, with just three matches left for them to finish as high up the table as possible.

Earlier this season, the Raiders went to Peterborough and won 5-2. The score this time around is difficult to predict – this should be a great game.

Guildford Phoenix vs Cardiff Fire

In an interesting tie at the Spectrum, the Phoenix look to keep a strong grasp on fifth place in the table while the Fire look to start moving up the table from their current ninth place.

The Phoenix are having a great season, and have won six of their last seven games – with the only loss in that time coming against title-chasing Oxford. They now look the favourites to finish in fifth place, in the battle to be the “best of the rest” behind the top four. In their last two games they have scored 14 goals and conceded just three, with 7-2 and 7-1 wins over Peterborough and Swindon respectively. Guildford also travelled to Cardiff back in January and took a big 4-1 road win.

The Fire have had an up-and-down season, and have lost five of their last six games including the aforementioned 4-1 home loss to Guildford. Their only win since mid-January was an ill-tempered 4-3 win away at Romford; but defeats to Bristol, Solent and Peterborough have followed on from that. Last Saturday’s 6-4 home defeat to Peterborough was a disappointing one, as the Fire put 59 shots on the Phantoms net and only faced 24 themselves, but couldn’t crack the code of Peterborough netminder Dan Lane and went down to defeat.

The Phoenix have to be favourites in this one, although the Fire have taken some big road wins already this season so can’t be counted out.

Oxford City Stars vs Haringey Huskies

Both the Stars and the Huskies play their second game of the weekend on Sunday, with Oxford also playing their second home game in as many days.

These two sides met at Alexandra Palace back in October, with the Stars winning by a narrow margin of 4-1. Oxford goals at that time came from Josh Oliver, Tom Davis, Michal Oravec and Dominic Hopkins; while the lone Huskies goal came from Sebastian Downing. Haringey netminder David Wride also had an extremely busy day, facing 53 shots and making a total of 49 saves.

The Huskies have proven adept at running the big teams close on some occasions this season; losing 1-4 to Oxford, 0-3 to Slough and 1-5 to Solent for instance. But they are yet to beat any of the top four teams this season, and it will be extremely tough for them to do so here – Oxford are chasing the league title so will be fully motivated to take a big win. Expect a Stars victory here.

Basingstoke Buffalo vs Bristol Pitbulls

The Buffalo also play their second game of the weekend here, as they welcome the Bristol Pitbulls to Planet Ice Basingstoke.

These two teams last met back in November at the Pitbulls’ adopted home rink in Oxford, with the Buffalo taking an impressive 7-5 road win. Basingstoke goals came from Liam Coleman (x3), Oscar Evans, Samuel Brooks, Cameron Buckle and Jason Newman; while for Bristol, goals from Olly Shone (x2), Jamie Newton, Grant Richardson and Steve Osman weren’t enough for victory.

The Pitbulls haven’t really got going this season, never winning more than two games in a row and currently sitting 10th, level on points with Cardiff ahead. Their last game was a couple of weekends ago, as they went down to Haringey by the odd goal in nine. Olly Shone grabbed a hat-trick and Giacomo Raffaelli scored the other, but Huskies netminder David Wride stopped 47 of 51 shots to backstop Haringey to a road victory.

This is a game between two sides that are having rollercoaster seasons. The result is hard to predict, but it should be an interesting game.

Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Slough Jets

It’s Slough’s second road game of the weekend, as the leaders travel to 14th placed Swindon.

The Wildcats have won four of their last nine, but have yet to find any consistency as they look to catch and pass Basingstoke ahead of them in the table. And with just two games left for the Wildcats (including this one) and a two point gap, that seems like a tricky task. They have at least put daylight between themselves and bottom club Lee Valley behind, with a seven point cushion over the Lions now.

The Wildcats lost two games on the road last weekend, going down 1-7 in Guildford and 2-8 in Romford. Eliot Randall scored a goal in each game, while Harry Llewellyn also scored against Romford. Goaltenders Liam Maguire (50 saves in Guildford) and Kyle Landells (41 saves in Romford) were also kept very busy.

The Jets will be playing their fifth consecutive road game here; after this, they will only have three games left this season including a mouth-watering home game against reigning champions Oxford on the 23rd of March. The title battle could go right down to the wire, so the Jets need to make sure they keep their concentration levels high and keep winning. With player-coach Lukas Smital back from his ban, this should be a given. Expect the Jets to take a big road win here.


Fixture information

Saturday
17:15 Oxford City Stars vs Solent Devils
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Invicta Mustangs
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Slough Jets
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Basingstoke Buffalo

Sunday
17:15 NIHL2 Raiders vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Cardiff Fire
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs Haringey Huskies
18:15 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Bristol Pitbulls
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Slough Jets


NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings
Note: Basingstoke’s home game vs Cardiff has been awarded as a 0-0 draw due to ice issues.

Posted in Weekend Preview

March 2nd, 2019 by Laurence Thorn

After a busy schedule last weekend in which every team played at least once, this weekend is a bit calmer with just six games on the schedule.

The Solent Devils are the only one of the top four in action, as they hope to pull level on points with second placed Chelmsford – provided they can win on the road against Haringey.

Saturday

Guildford Phoenix vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats

Two teams on good runs of form meet at the Spectrum on Saturday, as Guildford in fifth welcome Swindon in 14th.

The Phoenix have now won five of their last six games, with their only defeat in that time period coming against reigning league champions Oxford. Guildford bounced back from that tight Oxford defeat last Saturday, as they beat Peterborough 7-2 at the Spectrum – despite missing three key forwards in Andrew Hemmings, Bailey Wootton and Taylor Wootton. It was the third member of the Wootton clan, Haydn, who stepped up in the absence of his brothers as he scored two goals and two assists, while Josh Abbott (x2), Luke Becker, Luke Tull and Jacob Rondeau-Smith also got on the scoresheet. That result, coupled with the NIHL2 Raiders’ overtime defeat to Oxford on Saturday, allowed the Phoenix to extend their gap over the Raiders to four points – although the Romford side do have a game in hand.

Swindon may still be in 14th, but they have now won four of their last seven games to put daylight between themselves and bottom club Lee Valley, and also move to within one point of Basingstoke ahead. The Wildcats took a comfortable 8-1 home win against Basingstoke last Sunday; with Mason Lipsey bagging a hat-trick, Reed Sayers scoring two goals and two assists, and Jason Warren assisting on five goals. Tyler Perre was also excellent in the Wildcats net, stopping 41 of 42 shots that were fired at him. After a very slow start to the season, the young Wildcats side are now in full flow – and could prove to be tricky opponents for Guildford, if the Phoenix take them lightly.

Haringey Huskies vs Solent Devils

Solent look to draw level on points with second placed Chelmsford on Saturday, but to do so they will need to defeat the Huskies – who have shown an upwards trajectory in form lately.

The Huskies have won their last two games on the bounce, and five of their last eight, as they continue to recover from a poor start to the season in which they lost 11 of their first 14 games. They showed great character to get a 5-4 road win against Bristol last weekend, with Matthew Hepburn being the overtime goalscoring hero as he scored the winner with just 28 seconds to go in the extra period. Earlier on, Stephen Woodford had scored a brace to add to further goals from Ricky Rutherford and Gheorghe Dragomir, while the Huskies also got strong goaltending from David Wride who turned away 47 of 51 Bristol shots.

The Devils will be a big test for this Haringey side though; Solent have now won 16 games in a row, and are two points behind Chelmsford with two games in hand on the Essex side. Last weekend Solent continued their winning run as they comfortably beat Cardiff 8-1 on the road. Mark Pitts scored twice while Mitchell Murray, Alex Cole, Alexander Trendall, Daniel Shier, Drew Campbell and Richard Facey were also on the scoresheet for the Devils in a comprehensive road victory.

Earlier this season, Haringey visited Gosport and went down 9-0 to the Devils. The scoreline may be a bit closer this time, but Solent still have to be considered odds-on favourites to take an important win here and continue their title challenge.

Bracknell Hornets vs Lee Valley Lions

Bottom side Lee Valley travel to the Hive on Saturday to take on a Bracknell side with just one win in their last eight games.

The Hornets had got back to winning ways two weeks ago as they beat Swindon 8-1, but made the tricky trip to Chelmsford’s adopted home rink at Lee Valley last Sunday to face the Chieftains, coming out on the wrong end of a 7-1 defeat. It was definitely not as bad as the 13-3 home thrashing they had suffered at the hands of Chelmsford a few weeks prior; but nonetheless it was another disappointing result for a Hornets side that finished third last season but have slipped to eighth this time around. The sole goalscorer for Bracknell against Chelmsford was Ben Ealey-Newman, while Mark Duffy had an extremely busy night in net as he faced 62 shots, making 55 saves.

The Lions continue to be rooted to the bottom of the table, despite their 5-0 win over Swindon a month ago. Since then, they have lost four straight games including a disappointing 10-0 whitewash at the hands of Peterborough last Sunday. Former Lions captain Nick Alley scored four goals for the Phantoms, while the Lions could not convert any of their 27 shots and were shut out. The injuries are also starting to pile up for the Lions, with the likes of Joe Berry and Conner Smith currently out, so a win on the road against Bracknell is very unlikely – despite the Berkshire side’s recent poor form.

Cardiff Fire vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms

The Fire, who have just one win in their last five games, host a Peterborough side three places – but just four points – above them in the table on Saturday evening.

After a relatively strong start to the season in which they won 9 of their first 15 games, the last five haven’t been so kind to the Fire as they have lost four of those games, scoring just nine goals and conceding 25 in the process. This has meant that they have dropped to tenth in the standings. Of course, two of those games were against top four sides in Solent and Oxford – but the Fire would have hoped to have done a bit better against Guildford and Bristol. However despite that, the Fire are still well-placed to move up the table, as they have four games in hand on the Phantoms in seventh and are just four points behind – so a seventh or even sixth placed finish could still be on the cards for the Welsh side, if they can use those games in hand effectively.

The Phantoms had a mixed weekend last time out. On Saturday they were soundly beaten 7-2 by Guildford – although like the Phoenix, they were also missing several first team regulars in that game. The two goals for the Phantoms in that game came through Jordan Liddell and Conor Pollard. On Sunday, they then took a comfortable home win over bottom side Lee Valley, as Nick Alley scored four goals in a 10-0 win in which netminders Dan Lane and Jack Peacock shared a 27-shot shutout. It’s been hard to gauge the Phantoms’ form this season as it has been rather up-and-down; but a road win in South Wales would be massive for the Cambridgeshire side as they look to challenge for a top five or top six finish come the end of the season.

Sunday

Invicta Mustangs vs Basingstoke Buffalo

Two sides that lost twice last weekend are in action against each other on Sunday, as 13th placed Invicta welcome Basingstoke, who are directly below them in the table.

The Mustangs had an almost impossible task last weekend, having to face championship leaders Slough and reigning champions Oxford on back-to-back days. Unsurprisingly, the Mustangs didn’t win either game; but they did keep the scorelines relatively close in both as they went down 6-0 to Slough at home, and then 7-2 in Oxford. The two goals against Oxford came from Aaron Ferris and Joseph Bliss; while netminder Matthew Passmore once again had a very busy weekend, facing a total of 131 shots across the two games, making an impressive 118 saves.

The Buffalo also had a tough task on Saturday as they welcomed high-flying Chelmsford to Basingstoke, and went down to a heavy 12-2 defeat with Jack Peacock and Cameron Buckle scoring the two Buffalo goals, and Aaron Burton facing 55 shots in net. 24 hours later, they were back in action as they travelled to Swindon and went down 8-1 to a rampant NIHL2 Wildcats side, with the sole Buffalo goal coming from Warren Jones.

The Buffalo are still only three points behind Invicta however with three games in hand, so this is a big game for both sides as they look to finish as high up the table as they can. Any result is possible in what should be a close game.

NIHL2 Raiders vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats

The weekend wraps up in Romford on Sunday, as the NIHL2 Raiders host a Wildcats side that are playing their second game in as many days.

The Raiders put in a great performance at home last weekend, holding champions Oxford to a 2-2 regulation tie at the Sapphire – the Stars needed an overtime winner from Dominic Hopkins to take the two points. Goals for the Raiders came from Daniel Hitchings and Ewan Hill, while young netminder Brad Windebank earned more plaudits with another stellar performance in goal as he turned away 55 of 58 Oxford shots. The Raiders are now four points behind Guildford in the battle for fifth place, with one game in hand – that battle could rage on until the end of the season.

The Wildcats play their second road game of the weekend here, having visited Guildford the previous night. The Raiders and Wildcats met earlier in the season at the Link Centre in Swindon, as the Raiders went away with a narrow 5-3 road win back in November. With the Wildcats now on an upswing in form, they could make life very difficult for the Raiders in this game – and could potentially play a big part in determining whether it is Guildford or the Raiders who finish in fifth place this season.

This should be an interesting game, which could be harder to predict than the respective league positions would suggest.


Fixture information

Saturday
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Solent Devils
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Lee Valley Lions
18:30 Cardiff Fire vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms

Sunday
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:30 NIHL2 Raiders vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats


NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings

Posted in Weekend Preview

February 23rd, 2019 by Laurence Thorn

There are a bumper ten matches on the NIHL South 2 schedule this weekend – five each on Saturday and Sunday.

Every team plays at least once, with Oxford, Invicta, Peterborough, Basingstoke and Chelmsford each being in action twice.

Saturday

Bristol Pitbulls vs Haringey Huskies

A battle of the canines kicks off Saturday’s action as the 10th placed Pitbulls take on a Huskies side one place below them in the table.

Bristol took an impressive 5-3 road win in Cardiff last Sunday, moving level on points with the Fire in the league table – albeit having played three games more. On target for the Pitbulls in South Wales were Olly Shone (x2), Jamie Newton, Giacomo Raffaelli and Nathan Chilcott; while they lost import David Manning to a Match penalty for high sticking, so he should be suspended for the Huskies game. With the Pitbulls five points ahead of Haringey, they will be hoping that a win here will cement that spot in the table.

The Huskies took an impressive win over Romford last Sunday to stay in 11th place, two points ahead of Invicta. A goal-hungry Huskies side put eight goals past the sixth-placed NIHL2 Raiders, with veteran forward Ricky Rutherford bagging four goals, and further tallies coming from Luke Martin-Digby, Stephen Woodford, Joseph Willingham and Matthew Hepburn. The Huskies will still hold out hope of breaking into the top ten if they keep winning, so this is a crucial game on that quest. The result could go either way.

NIHL2 Raiders vs Oxford City Stars

There’s a big game at the Sapphire in Romford on Saturday, as the sixth placed Raiders host title chasers Oxford.

The Raiders suffered two disappointing defeats last weekend, going down 4-3 at home to Cardiff in an ill-tempered affair in which a total of 229 penalty minutes were handed out, before the aforementioned 8-6 defeat at Haringey the following day. Defenceman Daniel Hitchings was the star of the weekend for the Raiders as he scored a total of four goals across the two games, while Ewan Hill grabbed a goal in each game to take his total for the season up to 17 goals in just 14 games since he turned 16 years old and made his senior debut. The Raiders will hope to have starting netminder Brad Windebank back after he missed Sunday’s trip to Alexandra Palace.

The Stars announced a surprising coaching change midweek, with Kenny Redmond departing the club and veteran forward Lee Richardson having already taken over as player-coach prior to their trip to Guildford on Saturday. The Stars showed great character to win that game 5-4 at the Spectrum, against a Guildford side that handed Oxford their only home defeat of the season so far back in October. This time, the yellows didn’t slip up as they won in Surrey thanks to goals from Tom Davis (x2), Matthew Lawday, Michal Oravec and Dax Hedges. There was also a welcome return for Stewart Tait, playing his first game in five months after an injury in the season opener back in September.

Oxford have won their last eight games in a row, and have only lost twice all season as they look to retain their league title. They are the favourites for this game, although it won’t be easy.

Invicta Mustangs vs Slough Jets

The 12th placed Mustangs look to ground the league-leading Jets at Planet Ice Gillingham on Saturday.

The Mustangs have won three of their last five games, and beat the Lee Valley Lions 6-3 at home last weekend. A hat-trick from Harry Blake, a brace from Joseph Bliss, and a first senior goal from 16 year old Gregor Mcallan were enough to see off the bottom side in an entertaining game, with the Mustangs having led just 3-2 after the second period but then improving in the third period to take the win. They are two points behind 11th placed Haringey, with both sides still having seven games to play this season – so that could be an interesting battle towards the lower reaches of the table.

At the other end of the table, we’re starting to run out of new things to say about the Jets, who have now won 20 games in a row and sit at the top of the standings. They are currently on a run of five consecutive away games; but seem to be enjoying it so far, as they took a comfortable 9-2 win in Basingstoke last weekend after winning 9-1 at Haringey the weekend before. Making his debut against Basingstoke was Luke Smital, the 16-year-old son of player-coach Lukas Smital – and he rewarded the trust in him with an assist on his debut. Fellow 16-year-old Juha Lindgren scored his third goal for the club in just his second senior game, while the comparatively old 17-year-old Samuel Talbot put four goals past the Buffalo, as the Jets’ youth revolution continues.

This Jets are big favourites to win this game and make it 21 wins in a row stretching back to September.

Guildford Phoenix vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms

The Spectrum plays host to an interesting game on Saturday as fifth placed Guildford welcome a Peterborough side currently sitting seventh.

Guildford suffered an extremely tight 5-4 home defeat to title-chasing Oxford last weekend, pushing the Stars all the way but ultimately not being able to take the win. A brace from Haydn Wootton and single goals from Jared Lane and Luke Tull weren’t enough for the Phoenix, who lost their first game after a run of four wins in a row. However, the sides directly behind them – the NIHL2 Raiders and Peterborough – both lost last weekend too, so the Phoenix were able to keep their grip on fifth place.

The Phantoms played a close game in Gosport last weekend, travelling to the south coast with just 13 skaters to face an in-form Solent Devils side, and coming away with a creditable 4-2 defeat. Jordan Liddell and Bradley Wright scored the goals for the Phantoms, while Dan Lane was the star man in goal as he turned away 48 of 52 Devils shots. Despite losing four of their last six games, the Phantoms still lie seventh and are just four points behind Guildford in the standings – so a win here would be huge for them. This should be a close game, with any result possible.

Basingstoke Buffalo vs Chelmsford Chieftains

Second placed side Chelmsford face a tricky trip to Basingstoke on Saturday as they look to put pressure on league leaders Slough.

Basingstoke have put in some good performances against title-chasing teams so far this season, but last weekend they were powerless to stop leaders Slough, as they went down 9-2 at home and became the 20th consecutive victim of the Jets juggernaut. Goals for the Buffalo came from Neil Leary and Jack Peacock, while Ethan Frain was a busy man in net as he faced 43 Jets shots, making 34 saves. They now face another difficult test at home, with the visit of Chelmsford.

The Chieftains didn’t play last weekend, with their last game coming on the 9th of February as they battered the Bracknell Hornets 13-3 on the road. Ross Brears (3+3), David Millner (2+5), Grant Bartlett (2+2) and James Ayling (1+5) all had their fun against the Hornets, as the Chieftains bounced back from a surprising 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Mustangs a few weeks prior. Chelmsford are now four points back from leaders Slough with one game in hand, so need to keep winning out and hope that the Jets drop some points somewhere. Thus this is a crucial away game for the Chieftains – and one they should be big favourites to win.

Sunday

Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Lee Valley Lions

The Phantoms play their second game of the weekend on Sunday, as they welcome the Lions to Mallard Road. These two sides met at Lee Valley way back in September, with the Phantoms taking a huge 17-2 win against a short-benched Lions side thanks to their top line of Conor Pollard (5+3), former Lions captain Nick Alley (4+4) and Shaun Yardley (1+7) combining for 24 points on the night.

The Lions are a much-improved side since then, however; and in their last two games have come close to taking their second win of the season, suffering tight 5-6 and 6-3 defeats to Basingstoke and at Invicta respectively. They put up a good fight at Invicta last Saturday despite missing top scorer Tom Hnilica, with goals from Joe Berry, Gus Zimmerman and Simon Jones not quite enough as they fell to defeat on the road having trailed just 3-2 after the second period. The Lions are likely to be without defenceman Dexter Crawford this weekend, after he received a Match penalty for kneeing in the closing stages of the Mustangs game and thus will likely be suspended.

While the scoreline shouldn’t be as high as it was earlier in the season, the Phantoms are still the favourites to take the win in this game, as they look to put the pressure on the teams above them in the table.

Chelmsford Chieftains vs Bracknell Hornets

The Chieftains play their second game of the weekend, “hosting” Bracknell at their adopted home rink of Lee Valley on Sunday. As mentioned above, the Chieftains already destroyed the Hornets 13-3 on the road a few weeks back; so they will be confident of repeating the feat on “home” ice and closing that gap to Slough at the top. Chelmsford have only played one home game at Lee Valley so far – their early-season schedule was front-loaded with home games at the Riverside prior to it being closed for refurbishment in November – with the Chieftains beating Invicta 8-3 on the 22nd of December in that sole home game at Lee Valley.

The Hornets finally ended a horrendous run of six defeats on the bounce last weekend, as they beat the Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats 8-1 on the road on Sunday. Ben Ealey-Newman scored twice, while there were single goals for Jack Tarczycki, Adam Bicknell, James Eldridge, Riley Ikin, Josh Ealey-Newman and Harvey Hind-Pitcher, as the Hornets finally put their poor form behind them and were able to take a win. Nonetheless, with all due respect to the Wildcats – the Chieftains are a different proposition, as they are chasing the title and will be buoyed by that big win over the Hornets a few weeks back. So this will be a difficult game for Bracknell, and one that the Chieftains are big favourites to win.

Cardiff Fire vs Solent Devils

Last weekend was a mixed one for the Fire, as they took a big 4-3 win on the road in Romford – in a game in which emotions spilled over on numerous occasions – before losing at home to Bristol by a scoreline of 5-3 the following day. The game in Romford was both good and bad for the Fire; on the positive side, they took two big points on the road, but on the negative side they had three players tossed from the game, including Tom Smith who was assessed a Match penalty and thus missed the defeat to Bristol the next day. The weekend’s results leave the Fire in ninth place, two points behind Bracknell and Peterborough, and three points behind the Raiders – with games in hand on all of them.

But winning this game will be a big challenge, as they welcome a Devils side on a run of 15 consecutive wins, stretching back to October. In fact the only team to beat Solent this season are the league-leading Slough Jets, who did it twice. The Devils are now four points behind the Jets with two games in hand – but with head-to-head results being the first tie-breaker in the case that points are level, the Devils will need to not only win out this season if they want to clinch the league title, but also hope the Jets drop points somewhere. The Devils have shown a penchant for grinding out results even when not playing well in recent weeks – they struggled to hit top form against Peterborough and Basingstoke, but still came out with 4-2 wins each time.

Their game against Oxford on the 9th March, and their double-header against Chelmsford on the 16th and 17th of March, are absolutely huge games – so the Devils will hope to tune up for those games with a win over Cardiff here, although it won’t be easy.

Oxford City Stars vs Invicta Mustangs

Both sides play their second games of the weekend, with Oxford looking to continue their quest to defend their league title as they welcome the Mustangs to Oxpens Road.

The Stars and the Mustangs haven’t met this season yet, but Oxford have generally shown themselves to be pretty ruthless against teams lower down the table this season – so will be hoping to take a comfortable win here in what will be player-coach Lee Richardson’s third game in charge. The Stars are six points behind the leaders Slough, but have three games in hand and crucially lead the head-to-head results at the moment following an 8-2 win over the Jets on  the opening day of the season.

The Mustangs have an extremely tough weekend, with games against the sides in first (Slough) and fourth (Oxford) both providing stiff tests. But we can’t forget that the Mustangs did knock off then-leaders Chelmsford last month by a score of 7-5 in a result almost nobody saw coming. So they cannot be completely written off here, although all the smart money would be on the Stars taking the win and moving one step closer to defending their league title.

Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Basingstoke Buffalo

We round off the weekend at the Link Centre on Sunday with a clash between 14th placed Swindon, and a Buffalo side one place above them in the table.

The Wildcats suffered an 8-1 home defeat to Bracknell last weekend, with their solitary goal coming through Jason Warren. Goaltender Tyler Perre was once again extremely busy in net, turning away 55 of 63 Hornets shots that he faced as the visitors dominated the shot count 63-33. Nonetheless, the NIHL2 Wildcats can be happy with the recent form, as they have taken three wins in their last six games to open up a five point cushion on bottom side Lee Valley. With just three points separating them from the Buffalo ahead, and two meetings with the Buffalo to come – this game, and then a trip to Basingstoke in March – the Wildcats will now be hoping that they can challenge the Buffalo for 13th place.

The Buffalo will feel confident of clinging onto that place though, as they have five games in hand on the Wildcats and have proven that they can beat the likes of Cardiff and Bristol on the road this season – they still have home games against both of those sides to come. This road game in Swindon should be an interesting one, and the result really could go either way.


Fixture information

Saturday
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Haringey Huskies
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Slough Jets
17:15 NIHL2 Raiders vs Oxford City Stars
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
18:15 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Chelmsford Chieftains

Sunday
17:30 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Lee Valley Lions
17:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Bracknell Hornets
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Solent Devils
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs Invicta Mustangs
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Basingstoke Buffalo


NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings

Posted in Weekend Preview

February 16th, 2019 by Laurence Thorn

There were victories for title-chasing Slough, Chelmsford and Oxford last weekend, while the other side in the top four (Solent) had the weekend off.

It’s the turn of Chelmsford to have the weekend off this time around; with Slough, Solent and Oxford all in action on Saturday as the title race continues to heat up.

Saturday

Solent Devils vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms

Third placed side Solent look to go level on points with Chelmsford directly above them in the table, as they welcome the seventh placed Phantoms to Gosport.

Solent didn’t play last weekend, but are riding a 14 game winning streak stretching back to October. In fact, the team they beat to begin that winning streak was Peterborough, with the Devils taking a 4-2 win on the road on the 28th October – and they haven’t lost since. Solent goals in that game came from familiar names, with Drew Campbell, Richard Facey and Alex Murray (x2) all getting on the scoresheet. Facey (69 points) and Murray (65) are currently second and third respectively in the league’s scoring charts, while Campbell has only played 15 of their 19 games but has accrued 29 points in that time. Solent netminder Chico Cole will also be riding the crest of a wave, after being called up by EIHL side Coventry last weekend to serve as their backup goaltender.

The Phantoms took a solid 10-4 win over 13-man Swindon last weekend, leading 10-0 after two periods before switching off in the third and allowing the Wildcats to get four back. It was an important win for the Phantoms as they scrap for every point they can get in the tight mid-table region. Goals against Swindon came from James Pentecost (x3), Clint Herring, Shaun Yardley, Nick Alley, Kenny Bavin and Jordan LIddell, with netminder Dan Lane starting the game and backup Jack Peacock playing the second half of it.

The Phantoms will need to play at full throttle for all 60 minutes on Saturday if they are to get anything from the game – but Gosport is a tough place to go, and the Devils are on a hot streak, so a Solent win is the most likely outcome here.

Invicta Mustangs vs Lee Valley Lions

12th takes on 15th in Kent as the Mustangs welcome bottom club Lee Valley to Planet Ice Gillingham.

The Mustangs famously beat then-leaders Chelmsford 7-5 back at the end of January, but have not been able to capitalise on that result; their last 2 games have been 9-2 and 6-1 defeats to Bristol and Swindon respectively. Last weekend’s trip to Swindon was a tough one, as the Mustangs came up against a full-strength NIHL2 Wildcats side – and just as the Lions had done in their own encounter with Swindon the week before, the Mustangs slipped to a defeat. The sole Mustangs goal in Swindon came from Anthony Baskerville, while netminder Matthew Passmore faced 44 Wildcats shots in the Mustangs net.

The Lions suffered an agonising 6-5 home defeat to Basingstoke last weekend, coming back from 1-5 down to get within one goal of taking their first home win of the season but not quite being able to get the last goal that they needed. Nonetheless, it was the best home performance of the season from the Lions, and it will give them confidence coming into this game. Czech import forward Tom Hnilica is on scintillating form, having scored 16 goals in 16 games in his first season for the club, while Joe Berry is having his most productive season for a long time, hitting the 20 point mark for the first time since the 2011-12 season and showing great chemistry with Hnilica.

The games between these sides have tended to be tight, with the record since the 2013-14 season showing eight wins apiece and one tie. Earlier in this season, the Mustangs were able to beat the Lions convincingly by a score of 9-0; but after some recent improved performances, the Lions will hope to keep the score closer in this one.

NIHL2 Raiders vs Cardiff Fire

An intriguing tie takes place at the Sapphire in Romford on Saturday, as the sixth placed NIHL2 Raiders entertain a Cardiff side currently sitting in ninth.

The Raiders had a tough trip to Basingstoke last Sunday, ultimately coming out 4-3 winners on the road against the Buffalo. A hat-trick from Ewan Hill and a sole marker from Tommy Huggett secured the two points for the Raiders, despite the fact that they were missing three of their most experienced forwards in Matt Brown, Kamil Kinkor and Alan Lack. The Raiders have lost five of their last nine games, but four of those defeats have come against teams above them in the table – while they are doing a good job of picking up points against teams below them, and are sitting in sixth at the moment. Their last defeat to a team below them in the table was against Cardiff though, as they lost 5-6 in Wales back at the start of December.

Cardiff have now played the joint-lowest amount of games in the league this season, having only played 17 matches to date, and didn’t play on either of the last two weekends so it’s not easy to rate their form. They were last in action over the weekend of the 26th and 27th of January, losing back-to-back home games to fifth placed Guildford and fourth placed Oxford, scoring just the one goal over the two games. Luckily for Cardiff, the mid-table region is so tightly packed than a few wins will see them back in contention for a top five or top six finish – so they must win games against teams like the Raiders if they want to move up the table.

This game is an important one for both sides, and really could go either way. As the home side, and considering the league positions, the Raiders may enjoy the slight edge.

Guildford Phoenix vs Oxford City Stars

On Saturday we have a rematch of one of the biggest surprises of the season so far, as Guildford welcome Oxford to the Spectrum.

Back in October, Guildford travelled to Oxford and shocked the reigning league champions with a 3-2 regulation win. It was Oxford’s only home defeat of the season so far, while for the Phoenix it was a real statement of intent that they wanted to challenge towards the sharp end of the league this season. And despite inconsistent months in November and December, the Phoenix are now hitting their stride – they have now won four games on the bounce and sit fifth in the standings, just one place below Oxford, albeit six points behind. The Phoenix took a big 9-1 win against Bristol last Saturday, as Bailey Wootton copied his younger brother Taylor’s feat from their recent game against Lee Valley and tallied five goals; with Jared Lane, Josh Abbott, Luke Becker and Luke Tull also hitting the target.

This will be no easy task for the Phoenix though, as they welcome an Oxford side that have only lost twice all season and who are riding a seven game winning streak at the moment. Last Sunday they got off to a poor start at home against a struggling Bracknell side, going 1-0 down early; but ultimately came out as 6-2 winners over the Hornets thanks to a hat-trick from Matthew Lawday and further goals from Dax Hedges (x2) and Josh Oliver.

There was big news out of Oxford during the week, as it was announced that club captain and former player-coach Darren Elliott would be retiring at the end of the season. Elliott, nicknamed “Mr Oxford”, made his first appearance in a Stars jersey over 20 years ago as a teenager in the old British Division 1, and has been a staple of the side for many years – only spending half a season away from the club since 2003, and that was after the club folded during the 2011-12 season. The club would surely love nothing more than to retain their league title in Elliott’s last season as a player – and need to win big games like this in order to do it.

Expect a high-quality game here, with the Stars perhaps slight favourites given their position in the table – but don’t write the Phoenix off, especially given the result between these two sides earlier in the season.

Basingstoke Buffalo vs Slough Jets

The league-leading Jets face a tricky trip to Hampshire on Saturday to take on the Buffalo who currently lie 13th in the table.

Basingstoke played twice last weekend, and were involved in two thrillers – winning 6-5 on the road against Lee Valley, before falling 4-3 at home to the NIHL2 Raiders. Young netminder Ethan Frain put in a great performance in Saturday’s game against the Lions, earning Man of the Match, while Warren Jones grabbed four assists and both Samuel Brooks and Cameron Buckle scored two goals apiece to clinch a tight win. On Sunday against Romford, it was Aaron Burton’s turn in net, and he turned away 39 of 42 Raiders shots, while goals came from Jack Peacock, Samuel Compton and Samuel Brooks, but they ultimately couldn’t take the win. They sit 13th in the table at the moment, but are only one point behind Invicta with three games in hand – so will hope to finish at least 12th, if not higher, come the end of the season.

The Jets march on – they took a comfortable 9-1 win at Alexandra Palace last weekend against Haringey to move on to 19 wins in a row, despite missing four senior players in Timo Lindgren, Ryan Handisides, Luke Reynolds and player-coach Lukas Smital. The junior pathway in Slough is reaping dividends though, as shown in the Haringey game – despite missing the aforementioned four players, the Jets iced a full roster of 20+2 against Haringey, with 16-year-old Juha Lindgren scoring two goals on his debut and another 16-year-old Nathan Awoyemi getting his first senior goal in just his fifth game in the NIHL. The likes of Liam Clark and Jacob Soper have also broken into the first team this season, with the Jets giving ice time to all four lines and creating real competition for places once some of the senior absentees start to return to the roster.

These two sides met at the Hangar a few weeks ago, with the Buffalo running the Jets close for the first two periods before going down 7-3 in the end. Expect a similar game here – we know the Buffalo can raise their game against tough opponents, but expect Slough’s deep and youthful roster to win out in the end and allow them to win their 20th game in a row.

Sunday

Haringey Huskies vs NIHL2 Raiders

The Raiders play their second game of the weekend on Sunday, as they make the short trip to Alexandra Palace to face the 11th placed Huskies.

Haringey’s recent run of good form has come to an end in their last two games as they have suffered back-to-back big defeats, albeit to top five sides in Guildford and Slough, scoring three and conceding 17 over the course of the two games. Last weekend’s 9-1 home loss to Slough was a disappointing scoreline considering the Huskies had only lost 3-0 at the Hangar a few weeks previously; with Luke Martin-Digby getting the only Haringey goal of the game as he scored against his former club. The Huskies are five points off a top ten spot, but with Bristol also faltering ahead of them, they can still find their way into the top ten if they can put a run of wins together.

As discussed earlier, the Raiders are having a strong debut season in the league, mixing youth and experience well to currently sit sixth in the standings. When these two sides met earlier in the season in Romford, it was the Raiders who took an 8-4 win with goals from Alan Lack (x2), former Haringey forward Sam Roberts (x2), Brandon Webster, Kamil Kinkor, George Gell and Daniel Hitchings; while the Huskies got goals from Bryn Griffiths, Joseph Willingham, former Romford Fury forward Lee Mercer and former Romford junior Stephen Woodford. The Huskies also took 82 penalty minutes in what was a bad-tempered game.

If the Raiders can hit their stride and play as well as we know they can play, then they will hope to win by a similar scoreline on the road in this one. This will be a tough game for Haringey against a strong opponent.

Cardiff Fire vs Bristol Pitbulls

The Fire are in action for the second time this weekend, as they welcome a Pitbulls side directly below them in the league standings to the Viola Arena.

Cardiff and Bristol met in Oxford (the Pitbulls’ adopted home arena) back in October, with the Fire skating away with a 5-2 win on the road thanks to goals from Jackson Price, Sam Bryant, Jordan Powell, Lewis Stevens and Tom Smith; with the Pitbulls getting consolation markers from Sam Shone and Richard Hargreaves.

The Pitbulls are not really on great form in 2019, winning just two of their six games this calendar year so far and seeing the gaps to the teams ahead of them get bigger. They are still level on points with their opponents in this game, but the Fire have four games in hand on them so it is unlikely to stay that way for long, regardless of the result in this game. For the Pitbulls, holding off “fellow canines” Haringey to stay tenth in the league is probably the best target at the moment, although they will still hold out hope of moving up the standings. Last weekend they suffered a heavy 9-1 defeat to Guildford, with only Steve Osman able to score a goal.

The Fire will be confident of taking a win in this one, which will help their quest to move up the table.

Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Bracknell Hornets

Two teams on the opposite ends of the form spectrum meet in Sunday’s final game, as Swindon – who have finally hit their stride – take on a Bracknell side riding a six game losing streak.

The Wildcats started the season with 17 defeats on the bounce, but have now won three of their last five games as they show their traditional late-season upturn in form. As a development team, it often takes the Wildcats a while to achieve strong results, as they try to integrate a lot of young players into the side. It especially doesn’t help when the Swindon and/or Okanagan Under 18 sides, where most of the NIHL2 Wildcats players come from, play games on the same day – sometimes leaving the Wildcats with a very small roster. When they are able to field a strong roster and play to their strengths, though, they are now a side to be reckoned with – as seen with their recent victories over Bristol, Lee Valley and Invicta. With the Okanagan Under 18s scheduled to be in Cardiff for a midday faceoff on Sunday, we’ll have to see how many of those players will be available to also face Bracknell later in the day.

Perhaps the biggest negative surprise of this season has been the poor form of the Hornets. The side that finished third in the league last season are in a downward spiral at the moment, losing 11 of their 20 games to date including the last six on the bounce. They were demolished 13-3 at home by Chelmsford last Saturday, and although they were able to take the lead against Oxford the next day, they ultimately went down to a 6-2 loss in that game too. With eight games left in the season and a 12 point gap to the playoff places, the chances of them reaching the playoff finals weekend – which will be hosted in Bracknell – are almost nil now. The club will at least look to get back to winning ways before the season is out.

Usually a game between the NIHL2 Wildcats and the Hornets would be a foregone conclusion – but given recent form, Swindon will feel they have a good chance of getting something out of this game.


Fixture information

Saturday
17:00 Solent Devils vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Lee Valley Lions
17:15 NIHL2 Raiders vs Cardiff Fire
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Oxford City Stars
18:15 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Slough Jets

Sunday
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs NIHL2 Raiders
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Bristol Pitbulls
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Bracknell Hornets


NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings

Posted in Weekend Preview

February 9th, 2019 by Laurence Thorn

The Slough Jets reached the top of the NIHL South 2 standings last weekend, as they took a 7-3 home win over the Basingstoke Buffalo to move two points clear of previous leaders Chelmsford.

This weekend, the Jets look to hold on to that top spot as they travel to Haringey for the first of five away games in a row, while both Chelmsford and Oxford look to stay in touch with the Jets as they both face Bracknell, on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

Saturday

Bristol Pitbulls vs Guildford Phoenix

Two sides coming off big wins last weekend square off on Saturday, as 10th placed Bristol welcome Guildford who lie in fifth place.

Bristol put their recent shaky form aside last Saturday, as they won 9-2 on the road against the Invicta Mustangs in Kent. Invicta had knocked off Chelmsford at home a few weeks previously, so it was expected to be a tough game for the Pitbulls – but braces from David Manning and Joshua Dolphin, to go along with single goals from Jamie Newton, Giacomo Raffaelli, Michael Hargreaves, Nathan Chilcott and Giovanni Raffaelli gave the Pitbulls a big win and helped them to go level on points with ninth placed Cardiff. And with just three points separating the Pitbulls from the sixth placed Raiders in the packed mid-table region, there is still all to play for this season for Richard Hargreaves’ side. A win over Guildford here would be huge, both points-wise and also for the momentum it would give to the Pitbulls.

The Phoenix also took a big win of their own last weekend, beating Haringey 8-2 at the Spectrum in Guildford. It was the first time this season that the Phoenix have won three games on the bounce, and it allowed them to move three points clear of the Raiders, who are directly behind them in the table – although the Raiders do have two games in hand. Goalscorers against Haringey were Josh Abbott, Bailey Wootton (both x2), Jared Lane, Andrew Hemmings, Jacob Rondeau-Smith and Luke Tull; while Sam Calder stopped 28 of 30 Huskies shots. With the likes of the Raiders and Peterborough breathing down their necks, a win for the Phoenix here is much-needed in order for them to hold on to fifth in the standings.

This is an intriguing encounter that could go either way – this is one not to be missed.

Haringey Huskies vs Slough Jets

The Huskies look to bounce back from the aforementioned 8-2 defeat to Guildford last weekend, but face a difficult test on Saturday as they welcome the Jets to Alexandra Palace.

The Huskies had been on a good run of form prior to the game in Guildford – winning three of their previous four games, with the sole defeat in that run coming against the Jets in what was a tight 3-0 loss in Slough. But last Sunday was a poor one for the Huskies as they were comprehensively beaten by the Phoenix, being out-shot 57-30 and also taking 49 penalty minutes in the process. Ricky Rutherford and import forward Gheorghe Dragomir got the goals for Haringey in Guildford, with netminder David Wride having a very busy night as he turned away 49 shots. He could be similarly busy on Saturday.

The Jets extended their winning streak to 18 games on Saturday, moving to the top of the league standings as they won a tricky game against a Basingstoke side that have also given scares to fellow frontrunners Solent and Oxford this season. The Jets were only leading 4-3 after two periods against the Buffalo, before scoring three times in the third period to take the win by a final score of 7-3. The star of the show was once again forward Sean Norris, who bagged a hat-trick, while the Jets also got goals from Adam Rosbottom, Liam Underdown, Harry Wright and Craig Cowell.

Slough’s home game against Haringey last month was a tight one, with the Jets coming out as 3-0 winners. The league leaders will hope for a more dominant scoreline in this one, as they look to maintain their place at the top of the pile.

Lee Valley Lions vs Basingstoke Buffalo

The Lions look to bounce back from last weekend’s disappointing defeat against Swindon, as they welcome 13th placed Basingstoke to the Den on Saturday.

The Lions had taken their first win of the season in Swindon the previous weekend, so were looking forward to the Wildcats’ visit last Saturday. However, a disastrous 0-6 scoreline after the first period put their hopes of winning the game to bed, and they ultimately fell to a 12-3 home defeat against a Swindon side directly above them in the table. That result means that the Lions are still looking for their first home win of the season, and will feel that this game against the Buffalo is probably their best chance of doing it.

However the Buffalo aren’t to be underestimated, despite sitting 13th in the table. They have been involved in several close games this season, making life difficult for the likes of Slough, Solent and Oxford; and beat the Lions 8-2 in Basingstoke three weeks ago in a feisty game. The Buffalo played very well in the first two periods in Slough last weekend, with goals from Samuel Compton, Cameron Buckle and Oscar Evans not quite enough as they ultimately fell to a 7-3 defeat.

This game is a big one for both sides, as the Buffalo look to move up the table and the Lions look to finally win a game at home. If the Lions can play as they did away at Swindon two weekends ago, they have a chance here.

Bracknell Hornets vs Chelmsford Chieftains

Chelmsford look to bounce back from the disappointment of losing their lead in the league standings, as they take on a struggling Hornets side at the Hive.

The Hornets suffered their fourth defeat in a row last weekend, as they went down heavily 8-2 to title-chasing Solent in Gosport. Ben Ealey-Newman and Carl Graham were on target for the Hornets, but it was nowhere near enough to win the match as the Devils showed their class to take a big win. Mark Duffy started the game in net for the Hornets, but was replaced with young netminder Rory Edwards for the third period after letting in 6 goals from 29 shots in the first two periods. It was already the ninth defeat of the season for the Hornets in their 18th game, and they have now slipped down to eighth in the league table.

The Chieftains suffered a big defeat of their own in their most recent game, going down 7-5 on the road against the Invicta Mustangs two weeks back. They didn’t play last weekend, and watched on helplessly as the Slough Jets took over at the top of the table. The Chieftains are now two points behind the Jets, with both teams still having eight games to play – so there is still all to play for despite the loss to Invicta last time out. The Chieftains can still boast the best goalscoring rate this season (7.55 goals scored per game) and the third best defence (2.7 goals against per game, only Solent and Oxford have tighter defences) so they will still be confident that they can lift the league trophy in April.

A few months ago, we would have expected this game to be a close one. But with the Hornets’ recent struggles, along with the fact that Chelmsford need to win in order to keep the pressure on the Jets ahead of them, a Chieftains win is very much the most likely result here.

Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats

Two sides affiliated with higher division clubs square off at Mallard Road on Saturday, as Peterborough host Swindon.

The Phantoms had a tough task last weekend as they welcomed title-chasing Oxford to town, and were on the wrong end of an 8-4 defeat to the reigning league champions. Nick Alley, Conor Pollard, James Pentecost and Ross Clarke were all on target for Peterborough, but they were unable to keep Oxford off the scoresheet at the other end, as Dan Lane conceded eight goals on 45 shots before being replaced by Jack Peacock for the last 12 minutes of the game. That was the Phantoms’ 10th loss of the season in 20 games, giving them an exact 50% record on the season to date and putting them seventh in the table. If they want to move up the table and finish in the top six or top five, they need to focus on winning games against the teams below them in the table – starting with Swindon on Saturday.

The Wildcats have had a wild few weeks – after 17 losses in a row to start the season, they have won twice in their last three games, both on the road; first beating Bristol two weeks ago and then defeating Lee Valley 12-3 last Saturday. And sandwiched between those two games was a 5-0 home defeat to Lee Valley too. The Wildcats’ season seems to finally be on track after a slow start, and they will be hoping to string together some late-season wins and perhaps catch Basingstoke for 13th place – although the Buffalo have played five games less, so that will be a tall order.

When these two sides met earlier in the season, Swindon surprisingly took the game to overtime – it was their first point of the season after 12 consecutive regulation losses to start the campaign. With the Wildcats’ recent upturn in form, a close result here would not be so much of a surprise; but the Phantoms will still have to be considered the favourites in this one.

Sunday

Basingstoke Buffalo vs NIHL2 Raiders

The Buffalo play their second game of the weekend on Sunday, as they welcome the Raiders to Basingstoke. The 13th placed Buffalo have been hard to knock off in their own barn recently, holding Solent to a tight 2-4 defeat and beating Lee Valley 8-2 in their last two games at home. And with six home games still to come this season, including this one, the Buffalo will be confident that they can get a few more wins under their belts and move up the table.

However this will be a tough one for Basingstoke – the Raiders sit sixth in the table, three points behind Guildford with two games in hand, which is impressive for a side that was just formed last summer. The mix of youth and experience in the Raiders team seems to have worked out very well, as youngsters such as Tommy Huggett, Ewan Hill and George Gell benefit from playing alongside the likes of import Kamil Kinkor and former EPL forward Alan Lack. The Raiders did suffer a disappointing 7-2 home defeat to league leaders Slough last time out, but will feel more confident of getting a win this time around.

When these two sides met in Romford earlier in the season, the Raiders took a big 10-3 win. While the scoreline is unlikely to be so high this time, the Raiders have to be considered favourites for the win here.

Oxford City Stars vs Bracknell Hornets

The Hornets are in action for the second time on Sunday, as they travel to Oxpens Road to take on front-running Oxford.

The Stars took a comprehensive 8-4 win over Peterborough last weekend to keep themselves very much in the title hunt – they are six points behind leaders Slough but have played three games less, so it is imperative for the Stars to keep winning in order to stay in touch. On the scoresheet against Peterborough were Darren Elliott (x3), Jake Florey, Tom Davis, Matthew Lawday, Mchael Whillock and Dax Hedges, as Oxford took their sixth win in a row and their 15th on the season. They have only lost twice, to Guildford in October and to Solent in December, and will be looking to extend their winning run to seven on the bounce as they welcome a troubled Hornets side on Sunday.

As we’ve discussed over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of upheaval at Bracknell on both the coaching side and also the player personnel side, and this weekend’s tough double-header against two of the league’s best sides in Chelmsford and Oxford really doesn’t seem to have come at the right time for the Hornets. After suffering an 8-2 loss at the hands of Solent last weekend, the Hornets will look to put in improved performances in this weekend’s two games – but will be under no illusions about how tough they will be.

Expect the Stars to take the win here and keep the pressure on league leaders Slough.

Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Invicta Mustangs

Yet another team is in action for the second time in the weekend on Sunday, as Swindon follow up the previous evening’s trip to Peterborough with a home game against the Invicta Mustangs.

As discussed earlier, the Wildcats’ record at home this season is not good, as they have failed to win a home game in ten attempts, only registering one point in an overtime defeat against Peterborough. Their last home game didn’t go well at all, being shut out 5-0 by bottom side Lee Valley, which was the Lions’ first win in almost two years. But the Wildcats will feel that this is their best chance of breaking their home duck this season, as they welcome a Mustangs side just two places above them in the standings.

The Mustangs shocked the league two weeks back with that big 7-5 win over Chelmsford, but couldn’t follow it up last weekend as they slipped to a disappointing 9-2 defeat at the hands of Bristol. Aaron Ferris and Owen Dell scored the goals for the Mustangs, who handed a senior debut to 2003-born defenceman Gregor McAllan, but they couldn’t keep the scoreline down at the other end and slipped to their 14th defeat in 19 games this season. With Basingstoke breathing down their necks – the Buffalo are three points behind with four games in hand – it is crucial for the Mustangs to win games like this against teams below them in the table.

This is a tough one to call, and both sides will feel they can definitely get something from this game.


Fixture information

Saturday
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Guildford Phoenix
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Slough Jets
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Basingstoke Buffalo
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Chelmsford Chieftains
18:15 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats

Sunday
17:30 Basingstoke Buffalo vs NIHL2 Raiders
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs Bracknell Hornets
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Invicta Mustangs


NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings

Posted in Weekend Preview