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.
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.
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.
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
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