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.
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.
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.
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
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.