This weekend is a busy one in NIHL South 2, with five games on the schedule for Saturday and three on Sunday.
Fourteen teams are in action across the weekend, with only Haringey not playing at all; while both Solent and the Raiders play two games each.
Solent Devils vs Oxford City Stars
In what is probably the biggest game of the weekend, reigning playoff champions Solent host last season’s league winners Oxford in a clash of the champions. The Devils sit fourth in the table and are on a five game win streak, but are still recovering from two defeats suffered at the hands of Slough back in October. The Devils defeated Bristol 5-1 in their last game, with goals coming from Richard Facey (x2), Alex Murray, Ben Lock and Alexander Trendall; while Chico Cole had a relatively quiet night in net only facing 19 shots. He will likely have a lot more shots to deal with against goal-hungry Oxford. The Devils currently lie fourth in the table, two points behind Slough with a game in hand.
The Stars have won their last two games by a total score of 28-4, albeit against winless sides Swindon and Lee Valley. The points scoring is spread nicely throughout the Oxford side, with Joe Edwards, Michal Oravec (both 24 points), Matthew Lawday, Lee Richardson (both 19) and Josh Oliver (17) all putting up good numbers so far. The Stars have also conceded the least goals of any team in the league with 24, although they have played less games than some other teams. Oxford currently lie second in the standings, three points off Chelmsford ahead but with two games in hand.
A truly mouthwatering clash this one, with both teams packed full of offensive power. Expect a high-quality, intense game.
Lee Valley Lions vs Bristol Pitbulls
The Lions are still looking for their first win and points of the season as they welcome Bristol to the Den. In their last game two weeks ago, the Lions showed some small signs of improvement, albeit still going down 13-3 to reigning champions Oxford. Joe Berry scored twice in that match and Tom Hnilica got the other goal for the Lions. It’s been another tough season for the East London side to date, and there are more tough games to come with league leaders Chelmsford and reigning playoff champions Solent still to visit Lee Valley before Christmas. Before that, they have the Pitbulls to contend with.
Bristol followed up their surprising win over Chelmsford a few weeks ago with a 5-1 defeat in Gosport last weekend. Jack Hayes scored the lone Pitbulls goal against Solent, with Ross Miller busy in net facing 43 shots and conceding five goals. The Pitbulls are now eighth in the table after a promising start to the season, having lost five of their last six games. They will hope the winless Lions are the perfect springboard for them to get back to winning ways – and Bristol are strong favourites for this game.
Bracknell Hornets vs Slough Jets
The Hive plays host to a Berkshire derby on Saturday, with sixth placed Bracknell hosting the Jets who lie three places above them in the table. Bracknell have played less games than any side above them, and a win in this game would help their quest for a top four spot and therefore qualification for the playoffs. Bracknell’s last game was a 14-goal thriller against Solent, in which they ultimately went down 8-6 to the south coast side. In an ill-tempered game with a total of 96 penalty minutes being handed out, the Hornets got goals through Jakub Fojtik (x2), Steve Fisher, Danny Hughes, Carl Graham and Josh Ealey-Newman, but it wasn’t enough to take the win against the Devils.
The Jets are flying high meanwhile; they are on a nine game winning streak which they continued last Saturday with a 7-1 win over Swindon. Player-coach Lukas Smital had six assists on the night to move on to 55 points for the season in 11 games(!) while Sean Norris continued his recent strong form with a hat-trick to reach the 20 goal mark in just 10 games. Slough sit third in the table, five points ahead of Bracknell but having played two games more. Thus a win for the Hornets would close the gap between the two sides to just three points.
Either result is possible in this one – it should be a great exhibition of NIHL hockey.
Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Invicta Mustangs
The Phantoms won their fifth game of the season last weekend against Haringey; but of those five wins, they have only managed two of them in regulation time. Saturday’s win against Haringey came in a shootout after 65 minutes could not separate the two sides, with Peterborough ultimately taking the win by a score of 5-4. Leon Groom (x2), Nick Alley and new Swedish forward Ray Almgren scored for the Phantoms before they held their nerve to best the Huskies in a shootout. Now, the Phantoms come up against another side who have taken them to overtime this season in the Invicta Mustangs.
The Mustangs took a point from their last encounter with Peterborough a month ago, with the scores locked at 1-1 until Nick Alley broke Mustangs hearts with the game winner at the 64:45 mark. In that game, Matthew Passmore made 68 saves in the Invicta net as he continued his strong season so far. In the two games since the Peterborough game, the Mustangs have lost twice to Guildford by a total score of 12-2. However they will be hoping the signings of veteran players Kevin Lake, Andy Smith and Dan Fudger will add experience and tactical nous to the team.
Peterborough are probably the favourites here – but having taken the Phantoms to overtime once, the Mustangs will have high hopes of doing it again.
Cardiff Fire vs Raiders NIHL2
The Fire announced a coaching change during the week, as player-coach Chris Douglas is replaced behind the bench by former Cardiff Devils defenceman Mark Smith. He inherits a team on an inconsistent run of form, a win-loss record of 5-5 reflecting the up and down nature of their season thus far. Their last game was a 7-3 win over a Swindon side yet to score a point this season, but before that the Fire had lost three of their last four – albeit against strong sides Solent, Slough and Bracknell. The Fire are still in the mid-table mix and will hope to use this game to start to move back up the table,
The Raiders are on excellent form, winning six of their last seven with the only defeat in that time coming at Gosport. They made hard work of last weekend’s game against Swindon though, requiring a last minute go-ahead goal from Ewan Hill and an even later empty netter from Tommy Huggett to break Swindon hearts and bring home the two points, after a tight game in which the Raiders had 35 shots to the Wildcats’ 33. The trip to Cardiff is a tough one for sides based in the east, with teams usually travelling with relatively short benches. The size of the Raiders bench could determine the outcome of this game, with both sides looking relatively well-matched on paper.
Guildford Phoenix vs Solent Devils
Seventh plays fourth on Sunday as Guildford welcome Solent to the Spectrum. The Phoenix have won their last two games, both against Invicta, and have an overall win-loss record on the season of 6-4. Andrew Hemmings and Oliver Denis both bagged braces in last weekend’s 7-2 win over Invicta, with Sean Richardson, Jared Lane and Taylor Wootton also chipping in with a goal each. The Phoenix keep adding to their line-up too, announcing the signings of d-men Harry Hatfield (returning from last season’s roster) and Declan Jones (a former Guildford junior and ex-Haringey player) in recent weeks.
The Devils will play their second game of the weekend after a big clash with Oxford the previous evening. That game will likely take something out of them so the Phoenix may fancy their chances in this one; then again, most of Solent’s roster have experience at higher levels where teams regularly play two games a weekend, so they should be able to deal well with back-to-back games. Guildford are a good side, but Solent have to be made slight favourites here based on the quality they have on their roster.
Raiders NIHL2 vs Basingstoke Bison
Less than 24 hours after a tough trip to Cardiff, the Raiders are back in action in Romford on Sunday as they host the Buffalo. With a lot of experienced players in their side mixed in with enthusiastic and energetic young players, the Raiders should be able to raise their game again on Sunday despite the long trip the day before.
The Buffalo have played by far the smallest number of games of any team in the league, playing just five games to date – nobody else has played less than nine. Their cause wasn’t helped by the cancellation of their last home game against Cardiff due to unsuitable ice, meaning that the Buffalo have only played one game since mid-October, and that was one month ago. That makes it very hard to rate their chances – they currently sit 13th with a win-loss record of 2-3 but they have a ton of games in hand to make up on the teams ahead of them.
With the Raiders on good form and playing impressive ice hockey, it will be tough for a Buffalo side that hasn’t played for one month to make a big impact in this game. The Raiders are definite favourites here.
Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Chelmsford Chieftains
The Wildcats are still looking for their first win, but in their last few games have managed to keep the scorelines a bit more respectable that some games earlier in the season – in their last three matches, Swindon have lost by a total score of 19-7, compared to the 14-2 and 15-1 defeats they suffered to Oxford earlier in the campaign. As always with the Wildcats, it can be hard to predict how they will play as their line-up changes a lot from game to game; but they put in a good shift last Sunday at home to the Raiders, going down 5-3 after the Romford side scored three goals within the last three minutes of the game. The Wildcats goals in that game came from Jake Williams, Jack Goodchild and Eliot Randall; with Tyler Perre putting in another impressive performance in net.
They will come up against a Chieftains side who still lead the league, but who only have a three point lead over Oxford having played two games more. Chelmsford have lost two of their last three games, going down 3-1 to the aforementioned Oxford in a top of the table clash, and losing 3-2 in overtime to Bristol in their last game two weeks ago. After starting the season with many home games on the bounce due to their pending rink refurbishment, the campaign gets really tough for the Chieftains now as they face the prospect of a large number of consecutive away games. It will be fascinating to see how the team copes with that – nonetheless, they should be favourites in this game against a winless Swindon side.
17:00 Solent Devils vs Oxford City Stars
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Bristol Pitbulls
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Slough Jets
18:15 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Invicta Mustangs
18:30 Cardiff Fire vs Raiders NIHL2
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Solent Devils
17:30 Raiders NIHL2 vs Basingstoke Buffalo
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Chelmsford Chieftains
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings