The NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) season has been ongoing for a few weeks now, but while some teams – e.g. Chelmsford – have played three games already, five other teams have yet to play a single game.
So step forward Basingstoke, Bracknell, Cardiff and Solent, who all make their first appearances of the season this weekend. Only Swindon will still yet to have started their season by the time this weekend is done.
Four games will be played on Saturday and a further two are scheduled for Sunday, with the tastiest encounter looking to be at Oxpens Road as last season’s league champions, the Oxford City Stars, host Peterborough.
Solent Devils vs Invicta Mustangs
Down on the south coast, last season’s NIHL South 2 Playoff champions Solent get their 2018-19 campaign underway as they welcome the Invicta Mustangs.
The Devils have kept largely the same side together that lifted the silverware at the playoff finals weekend in Bracknell back in April, although they have lost import forward Drew Campbell to retirement and so far not announced the re-signing of prolific forward Mitchell Murray.
However the Devils can still call upon the services of lethal duo Richard Facey and player-coach Alex Murray, as well as boasting probably the strongest goaltending duo in the league in club stalwart Chico Cole and newcomer Matt Colclough, who arrives after many years in NIHL1 with Wightlink and Streatham.
The Mustangs went down 6-3 in defeat against Romford in their season opener last weekend, although they showed good spirit to come back from 1-5 down to 3-5 before conceding the final goal of the game early in the third period. Goals for the Mustangs came from Thomas Mallett, Jake Stedman and newcomer Joseph Bliss; while the versatile Lucy Gruber – who can play as a goalie or an outskater – stopped 28 of 34 shots in the Mustangs net.
The game against Solent will be a tough ask for the Mustangs – not only are the Devils the reigning playoff champions, they also play in a small Gosport rink that opposing teams really dislike coming to. Expect the Devils to start their season with a victory.
Oxford City Stars vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
The City Stars have started their season off perfectly so far results-wise, winning both of their games whilst scoring a total of 15 goals and conceding just three. They welcome a Peterborough side that lost to Guildford on the opening day before thrashing Lee Valley last weekend to record their first points of the season.
Joe Edwards already looks in top form for Oxford, scoring 3+3=6 in the two games last weekend; while Conor Redmond tallied five points and Matthew Lawday, Michal Oravec, Lee Richardson and Alex Staples all scored four points. Especially promising for the Stars would have been the three goals and one assist scored by Richardson, who has returned to hockey this season after a year of retirement – and seems to be bang on form.
While the weekend went well for Oxford results-wise, things aren’t so rosy in the treatment room – veteran Stewart Tait suffered a broken fibula with a talar shift in the win over Slough, and looks set for a lengthy time on the sidelines. We wish Stewart all the best in his recovery!
Peterborough’s form is hard to read – they dominated the first period against Guildford before falling to a 5-2 defeat, while not too much should be read into last weekend’s 17-2 victory over a short-benched, new-look Lee Valley side. They have some new players to bed into the team this season to compensate for a few key players they have lost, and while former Lions captain Nick Alley was one of three players to bag eight points against the Lions last weekend, they are likely to find scoring harder to come by against a well-organised Oxford side.
With the reigning league champions Oxford keeping the bulk of their side together and the Phantoms still finding their feet, a victory for the Stars is the likely result in this one.
Raiders NIHL2 vs Bristol Pitbulls
The first ever NIHL2 league game at the Sapphire Ice and Leisure Centre in Romford takes place on Saturday, with the Raiders welcoming the Bristol Pitbulls.
The Raiders opened their league campaign last weekend with a 6-3 road win in Invicta. with both 16-year-old Tommy Huggett and Czech import forward Kamil Kinkor bagging a brace each. Further goals came from EPL/NIHL1 veteran Alan Lack and former Chelmsford and Guildford youngster George Gell.
The likes of Kinkor and Lack provide an experienced backbone to this Raiders side, with captain Sam Roberts also still to make his first league appearance of the season after missing the Invicta game. There are also a number of impressive youth prospects on the team, with Tommy Huggett already scoring twice last weekend and the likes of Callum Burnett and Brandon Webster looking to gain more senior experience to move up to the next level.
The Pitbulls have already played twice meanwhile; first winning the “dogfight” at Alexandra Palace against Haringey by a scoreline of 4-3, before going down 1-7 to Oxford last Sunday. Bristol’s best points scorer so far is captain Steve Osman with 1+3=4, while Jamie Newton and newcomer Nathan Chilcott have three points each.
This should be a tight game – on paper, the Raiders have a strong roster, but have only played one competitive game together. Contrast that with Bristol where the bulk of the team has been together for many years now, and it really makes for an interesting dynamic. This game is a hard one to call.
Bracknell Hornets vs Haringey Huskies
Last season’s third placed side Bracknell get their 2018-19 campaign underway with a home game at the Hive. They welcome a Huskies side which is yet to get off the mark this season.
Bracknell are largely unchanged from the side that started last season very strongly but faded towards the end; and it may not be a coincidence that the team’s form got worse after losing influential American import forward Sean Scarbrough. How well his replacement Jakub Fojtik does – the Czech forward returns to hockey after seven years out – could make or break Bracknell’s title ambitions.
That’s not to say that Bracknell are reliant solely on their import forward; the likes of goaltender Will Sanderson; defencemen Jack Tarczycki and Carl Graham; and forwards Steve Fisher and the Ealey-Newman brothers Ben and Josh are all strong players and should help Bracknell to at least a top three finish again this season, if not better.
The Huskies will have a reunion with forward Daniel Clayton in this game, who moved from North London to Bracknell in the off-season. Apart from Clayton, the Huskies did not lose too many other key players – announcing the big re-signings of defenceman Sam Jackson and goaltender David Wride on the eve of the season.
However they have been slow to get going so far this campaign, losing 4-3 at home to Bristol in a tight encounter before losing a messy-sounding game to Chelmsford by a score of 9-3, the Huskies taking a total of 84(!) penalty minutes against the Chieftains.
Just like Oxford with Stewart Tait, the Huskies have also lost a veteran player to a nasty-looking injury, with Alastair Band set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a broken fibula. We wish him a speedy recovery!
Haringey have the potential to be a banana skin for the Hornets; however if the Berkshire side play to their strengths and Fojtik can start firing right away, they should have too much for the Huskies in this game.
Cardiff Fire vs Basingstoke Buffalo
A new era begins in Cardiff on Sunday, as player-coach Chris “Disco” Douglas takes charge of the Fire for the first time against the Basingstoke Buffalo.
The Fire ran two sides last season, one in NIHL1 and one in NIHL2, but downsize to just the division 2 side for 2018/19. And the roster has a very familiar look to it – apart from the new face of player-coach Douglas who arrives from Slough, pretty much every other player on the roster has played for one Cardiff side or another in the past – so building chemistry in the team should not be an issue.
In net, Douglas forms a trio with James Whiting and 18-year-old starlet Lewis Davies, both of whom played for the Fire last season in both division 1 and 2. Defensively, the blueline looks solid with the likes of Phil Manny, Joe Morris and Ross Wilkinson providing veteran presence. And up front the evergreen Alan Armour is joined by the likes of Stephen Deacon, Tamás Éliás and Jordan Powell who are all proven scorers at this level.
The Buffalo look to have an interesting mix of youth and experience this season; the club has announced ten players so far with an average age of 18(!), while the roster on their website lists 13 players as returning from last season’s side including netminder Kevin McGurk; defencemen Sam Dollin and Josh Richards; and forwards Mark Austen, Neil Leary, Matt Levy and Marcus Russell.
No mention has been made yet as to whether netminder Aaron Craft or import forward Blair Dubyk will be staying on – losing one or both of those players would be a big blow to the Buffalo, as both played key roles for Basingstoke last season.
This could be a tricky first game in charge for Douglas. But with the Buffalo blooding lots of players who are stepping up for juniors, as opposed to the Fire who have quite a stable team, a win for Cardiff is the likely result here.
Chelmsford Chieftains vs Slough Jets
The Chieftains have won three out of a possible three games so far, and look to keep up their 100% record as they welcome a Slough side that lost 8-2 to Oxford last weekend in their only game to date.
Due to upcoming rink refurbishment, Chelmsford are playing an unusual schedule of eight home games in their first nine matches. They have already played two of those home games, beating Lee Valley 14-1 and Guildford 6-2. Sandwiched between those two wins was also a 9-3 victory at Haringey.
Free-scoring duo Ross Brears (7+12=19) and James Ayling (6+7=13) top the league points charts for now – although with Chelmsford being the only team to have played three games so far, maybe that’s not surprising. Nonetheless it has been impressive to see how the veteran duo have started the season – especially with the Chieftains losing the forward trio of captain Anthony Leone and the Bartlett twins Cameron and Grant over the summer. Ayling and Brears have also been receiving scoring help from Courtney Grant (eight points) and Bradley Moore who has scored seven.
The Jets had a tough task last Saturday, travelling to the reigning league champions Oxford to open their competitive season. Slough went down 8-2 at Oxpens Road, with goals coming from Liam Underdown and youngster Sam Talbot. Player-coach Lukas Smital was held scoreless while his son Matthew stopped 40 of 48 shots against the City Stars.
With the strong start to the season that Chelmsford have had – and the daunting early form of the likes of Brears, Ayling, Grant and Moore – the schedule doesn’t get much easier for Slough this weekend. It will be tough for them to get a result at the Riverside, and they will need Smital senior and junior to both be on top form if they want to get anything from the game.
We’ll have updates on scores and scorers from all the games as we get the information. Going to a game? We’d love to know what’s happening – tweet us @482days with your updates!
Looking for info on the NIHL1 South games? You can find the NIHL1 South preview HERE.
17:00 Solent Devils vs Invicta Mustangs
17:15 Oxford City Stars vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
17:15 Raiders NIHL2 vs Bristol Pitbulls
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Haringey Huskies
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Basingstoke Buffalo
18:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Slough Jets
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings