With just a few days to go until Christmas, there are only four games on the schedule in NIHL South 2 this weekend – all on Saturday.
Second place side Slough look to continue their winning streak – which currently stands at 12 consecutive games(!) – as they host local rivals Bracknell in a huge game, while league leaders Chelmsford are also in action as are Oxford, who currently lie in fourth.
Oxford City Stars vs Basingstoke Buffalo
Reigning league champions Oxford haven’t had it all their own way this season – they currently lie fourth, seven points off league leaders Chelmsford, although they do have three games in hand. Nonetheless, games in hand only mean anything if you win all of them, and as of late the Stars’ form hasn’t been as dominant as one might expect. Last time out they only managed to win 3-2 in Basingstoke against the same opponents they will face in this game, while the game before that was a disappointing 4-2 defeat in Gosport against title rivals Solent. This home game against the Buffalo is therefore a must-win for Oxford, who will look to make a statement and end the year in style.
The Buffalo are on strong form of late; as mentioned above, they held Oxford to a tight 3-2 scoreline a few weeks ago in a match that was a lot closer than most people expected it to be, and last weekend won by a scoreline of 3-2 themselves against the Haringey Huskies. Goalscorers against Haringey were Liam Coleman, Cameron Buckle and Warren Jones, while Aaron Burton wasn’t as busy in goal as he usually is, turning away 20 of 22 Huskies shots. That result means that the Buffalo are just one point behind 11th place Invicta and 12th Haringey, despite having six(!) games in hand on both of those sides.
This could be an interesting game if the Stars aren’t able to get back to their best form – but with the Stars at home, they are still heavy favourites for this game.
Guildford Phoenix vs Raiders NIHL2
A tight game is almost guaranteed at the Spectrum as seventh placed Guildford welcome a Raiders side just two places and one point ahead of them in the table. The Phoenix didn’t play last weekend, but two weekends ago beat Bristol 3-1, with goals coming from Nick Minhinnick (x2) and Jared Lane. Impressively, the Phoenix beat Bristol despite missing both Josh Abbott and Bailey Wootton, two of their top four scorers, who have both been missing since November.
Earlier in the season, the Phoenix visited Romford and suffered a 5-4 defeat in penalty shots after a close game, with the aforementioned Abbott scoring twice and other goals coming through Taylor Wootton and Oliver Denis.
The NIHL2 Raiders are flying high in fifth place at the moment – an impressive feat considering they are a brand new team. Their last game was three weekends ago, when they dispatched Basingstoke 10-3 with a clinical performance. Kamil Kinkor scored a hat-trick against Basingstoke, with braces for Tommy Huggett and Ewan Hill, and single goals for Brandon Webster, Matthew Hamilton and Alan Lack.
In the aforementioned 5-4 win on penalty shots over Guildford back in October, the goals came from Kinkor, Huggett, Lack and Sam Roberts, while Brad Windebank stopped 33 of 37 shots he faced in net. Expect a similarly tight game on Saturday between two evenly-matched sides.
Chelmsford Chieftains vs Invicta Mustangs
After playing six road games on the bounce since their Riverside rink closed for refurbishment, the Chieftains play their first “home” game in almost two months on Saturday – hosting Invicta at Lee Valley Ice Centre. Funnily enough, the Chieftains’ last game was at the same rink last Sunday, as they beat bottom side Lee Valley Lions 10-5.
It was their second win of the weekend, having also won 7-2 in Peterborough the night before – although the game was filled with controversy as the Chieftains accrued 121 penalty minutes, including a Match penalty for Cameron Bartlett and two Match penalties for Charlie Phillips. At the time of writing, the EIHA hadn’t revealed the lengths of any bans that may have come from that game.
When the Chieftains focus on their hockey, they are one of – if not the best – sides in the league. They have scored 119 goals in 15 games this season while conceding just 33, for a spectacular goal difference of +86. They will be an extremely difficult test for the Mustangs.
The Mustangs are nonetheless coming into this game off the back of their third win of the season last Saturday, as they dispatched Haringey 8-3 to move level on points with the Huskies and rise up to 11th in the standings ahead of the North London side. Anthony Baskerville scored a brace for the Mustangs against Haringey, with six other players scoring a goal apiece, as the Kent side could finally break a six game losing streak.
Despite that win however, the Chieftains are a totally different kettle of fish – and the league leaders are big favourites here to take another win and keep a firm grip on top spot in the standings.
Slough Jets vs Bracknell Hornets
The Berkshire derby on Saturday promises to be a tasty affair, as the Jets – currently second in the league and on a run of 12 consecutive wins – host a Bracknell side looking to stay within touching distance of the top four.
Slough took that aforementioned 12th win on the bounce last weekend as they beat Bristol 8-5. Not only that – they showed their strength in depth as eight different players scored a goal apiece, proving that they do not just rely on their big name forwards such as Lukas Smital, Sam Talbot and Sean Norris. Earlier this month, these two sides met in Bracknell and the Jets came out on top 4-3 in a thrilling game, with young netminder Brett Shepherd backstopping them to victory as he stopped 36 of 39 Hornets attempts, while the aforementioned Talbot scored a brace.
This season hasn’t quite gone to plan for the Hornets, who were expected to be a top four side before the season began but currently lie in sixth position, five points outside the top four. Their last game was a comfortable 8-3 win over Invicta, but in the two games before that they lost to Slough and Solent – teams they would have hoped to be competing with for playoff spots this season. If the Hornets want to have a good chance of taking fourth spot at the end of the season and therefore making the playoffs, they have to start winning big games like this.
The pressure will be on the Hornets to deliver a victory here, but the Jets are flying high – expect an intense game.
17:15 Oxford City Stars vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Raiders NIHL2
17:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Invicta Mustangs (@ Lee Valley)
17:45 Slough Jets vs Bracknell Hornets
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings