Another busy weekend lies ahead in NIHL South 2, with six games scheduled for Saturday and one on Sunday.
The top five sides are all in action on Saturday, with the most mouth-watering tie looking to be the derby between the fifth placed NIHL2 Raiders and the league leaders Chelmsford.
Solent Devils vs Swindon Wildcats
The weekend’s action kicks off with a tie between third placed Solent – four points off the league lead and with two games in hand – and a Swindon side that have only picked up one point all season.
The Devils extended their current winning streak to 11 games with a big 9-3 home win over Guildford last Saturday. The score was 3-2 in favour of the Devils after 40 minutes, but a six-goal final period blitz gave Solent a comprehensive win in the end. Mitchell Murray, James Hounsome and Richard Facey each scored two goals; while there were solitary markers for Drew Campbell, Mason Wild and Alex Murray in that victory.
The Wildcats were in action twice last weekend, going down 6-0 at home to Cardiff on Saturday, before travelling to North London on Sunday and being defeated 5-2 by Haringey. On the scoresheet for the Wildcats at Alexandra Palace were Jason Warren and Eliot Randall, but their efforts weren’t enough to help the Wildcats to their first victory of the season – they still sit 14th in the table on one solitary point.
These two teams met back in September with Solent taking a 10-2 win. Expect a similar scoreline here, with anything other than a Devils win being very unlikely.
Oxford City Stars vs Bristol Pitbulls
Two teams that share the same rink clash at Oxpens Road as the fourth place City Stars face off against the Pitbulls, who currently sit tenth in the standings.
Oxford started 2019 with the expected comprehensive victory over bottom club Lee Valley last Sunday, beating the Lions by a 13-1 scoreline. Nine different players scored at least one goal for Oxford in that game, with Conor Redmond bagging four goals and Dominic Hopkins scoring a brace, while Lee Richardson scored a goal and added four assists. The Stars are now eight points off leaders Chelmsford but have four games in hand, so their quest to repeat as league champions is very much still on.
Bristol snapped a three game losing streak last weekend as they beat Peterborough 6-4 at their adopted home rink in Oxford. Olly Shone scored four goals, with Steve Osman and Richard Hargreaves adding the others and Ross Miller stopping 42 of 46 shots in net, as the Pitbulls avenged a 4-3 defeat at Peterborough earlier in the season and moved to within two points of the Phantoms, who lie in eighth.
Earlier in the season, Oxford beat Bristol 7-1 in the Pitbulls’ designated home game. The Stars will look to repeat that feat here, in order to keep up their pressure on the teams above them in the title fight.
NIHL2 Raiders vs Chelmsford Chieftains
As well as the aforementioned Oxford vs Bristol game, there’s another local derby to enjoy in Romford on Saturday as the NIHL2 Raiders host the league leading Chelmsford Chieftains.
These two sides met in Chelmsford earlier this season in an ill-tempered game, in which a total of 106 penalty minutes were handed out, and the Chieftains came away 7-1 winners.
Since that game, the Raiders have a win-loss record of 9-4, and now sit fifth in the table having beaten Bracknell 4-3 in a direct battle for that spot last Saturday. On the scoresheet for the Raiders against Bracknell were Ewan Hill (x2), Sam Roberts and Callum Burnett; while there was yet another standout performance in net from Brad Windebank as he turned away 38 of 41 Hornets shots to help his side to victory.
The Chieftains played a massive game last Saturday as they travelled to Slough to take on the second placed Jets. And after 60 minutes could not separate the two sides – the score was 3-3 at the end of regulation – the Jets scored at the 64:01 mark to take an overtime win and close to within two points of the Chieftains at the top of the pile. Goalscorers for the Chieftains in Slough were Ross Brears (x2) and Grant Bartlett.
After the Slough defeat, the Chieftains can afford no more slip-ups if they want to maintain their position at the top of the table – but the Raiders will be a tough task for the Chieftains, and the league leaders will need to show all of their quality in order to win what is sure to be an intense derby game.
Lee Valley Lions vs Guildford Phoenix
Bottom club Lee Valley are the only side in action twice this weekend, and kick their weekend off with the visit of Guildford on Saturday. The Lions went down heavily in Oxford last Sunday as expected, losing 13-1 to the Stars in what was a tough game for the East London side. The solitary Lions goal came through Tom Hnilica, returning to the side after missing their defeat to Cardiff the weekend before. Hnilica scored his tenth goal of the season in Oxford, but it was to be the only bright spot of the evening for the Lions.
The Phoenix had a tough weekend last time out, losing 9-3 in Solent and then going down 5-4 at home to Slough. Of course it must be pointed out that they were facing the second and third placed sides in the league, so the Surrey side shouldn’t be too downhearted about the results. They did a good job on Sunday to run the Jets close, losing by the odd goal in nine to a side on a 15 game winning streak, while Saturday’s trip to Gosport was less rewarding as the Phoenix shipped six goals in the third period to lose by a rather heavy scoreline.
Nonetheless, the Phoenix still lie seventh in the table and are just one point behind Bracknell who are in sixth – so they will look to get things back on track with a win over the Lions on Saturday.
Slough Jets vs Haringey Huskies
Slough look to extend their winning streak to 16 games on Saturday, as they welcome 11th place side Haringey to the Hangar.
As mentioned earlier, Slough continued their superb season last weekend with two more victories – a thrilling 4-3 overtime win against leaders Chelmsford, followed up by a 5-4 win on the road against Guildford. Those wins were made even more impressive by the fact that player-coach and top scorer Lukas Smital didn’t ice for either of those games.
But Slough have shown this season that they are definitely not a “one man team” – Sean Norris and Sam Talbot have both been breakout stars for the Jets, and they continued their strong form with two goals each against Chelmsford. On Sunday in Guildford, Norris got a single goal while Dan Rose (x2), Nathan Darmanin and Luke Reynolds stepped up with the other ones to demonstrate the scoring depth in this Jets side. And of course, we have to mention Matt Smital who faced 87 combined shots over the two games, stopping 80 of them.
The Huskies are on a winning streak of their own right now, having won their last two games which were both against Swindon. The North London side won 5-2 at home last Sunday, with goals coming through Matthew Hepburn (x2), Mark Robinson (x2) and Joseph Wllingham. The two wins over Swindon will give the Huskies confidence going into the second half of the season, as they look to chase down the likes of Cardiff and Bristol and secure a top ten finish – a tough task, but definitely doable. They have also added a new face to their roster ahead of this weekend, as veteran Scottish forward Ryan McFarlane – formerly of Bristol, Oxford and Solent as well as having iced for Edinburgh in the EIHL – joins the club.
Someone’s winning streak has to go in this game – and it would be a big surprise if Haringey could take the win here. Expect the Jets to extend that winning run to 16 games.
Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Cardiff Fire
Only two points separate the Phantoms in eighth and the Fire in ninth, while the Fire also have three games in hand on their opponents in this game. So this is a big match for both sides as they look to finish as high up the table as possible.
The Phantoms went down 6-4 against Bristol last Saturday, with goals coming through Nick Alley, Jordan Liddell, James Pentecost and Ross Clarke. However they were unable to stop Pitbulls forward Olly Shone scoring four times, and ultimately the Phantoms went down to a disappointing defeat – if Peterborough had won, they would have moved up to sixth place ahead of Bracknell and Guildford. A win this weekend is thus vital for Peterborough as they try to move into the top six in the league.
Cardiff have had a rollercoaster 2019 so far – winning 8-1 at Lee Valley, going down 10-3 at home to Chelmsford, and then shutting out Swindon on the road 6-0. The Fire are ninth in the league at the moment, but have played less games than the four teams ahead of them, so could start to move up the league quickly if they can find some consistent form. Their goals against Swindon last Saturday came through Tamas Elias (x2), Iwan Davies (x2), Samual Bryant and Jackson Price, with Lewis Davies enjoying a 25-shot shutout.
This is a hard game to call, and should be an intense game between two sides scrapping for every point they can get in the tightly-packed mid-table region.
Basingstoke Buffalo vs Lee Valley Lions
In Sunday’s only game, the 13th placed Buffalo welcome the Lee Valley Lions to Basingstoke in an intriguing tie towards the lower reaches of the table.
The Buffalo are the team in the league that have played the least amount of games – they have only played 12 times so far, and thus their league position is a little hard to read. Nonetheless, with a win-loss record of 3-9 so far, there is definite room for improvement in this Buffalo side. They have lost their last four games, with defeats to Oxford, Peterborough (twice) and Invicta. The defeat at home to Invicta last Sunday was a very disappointing one for Basingstoke, as they could have leapfrogged the Mustangs into 12th place if they had won. Instead, Mustangs goals from Joseph Bliss, Kevin Lake and Jake Stedman were enough to cancel out the sole Buffalo goal from Neil Leary, giving Invicta the win and a big two points.
The Lions, of course, are yet to win a game this season, and will come into this game having played Guildford at home the previous night. There’s a possibility that they may come into this game off the back of their first win; but if not, the Lions will feel this is a game that they have a good chance of winning, against a team not that much higher than them in the table.
This is an interesting game towards the bottom of the table, and could be the Lions’ best chance so far of taking their first win – or at least point – of the season.
17:00 Solent Devils vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
17:15 Oxford City Stars vs Bristol Pitbulls
17:15 NIHL2 Raiders vs Chelmsford Chieftains
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Guildford Phoenix
17:45 Slough Jets vs Haringey Huskies
18:15 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Cardiff Fire
18:15 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Lee Valley Lions
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings