There are a bumper ten matches on the NIHL South 2 schedule this weekend – five each on Saturday and Sunday.
Every team plays at least once, with Oxford, Invicta, Peterborough, Basingstoke and Chelmsford each being in action twice.
Bristol Pitbulls vs Haringey Huskies
A battle of the canines kicks off Saturday’s action as the 10th placed Pitbulls take on a Huskies side one place below them in the table.
Bristol took an impressive 5-3 road win in Cardiff last Sunday, moving level on points with the Fire in the league table – albeit having played three games more. On target for the Pitbulls in South Wales were Olly Shone (x2), Jamie Newton, Giacomo Raffaelli and Nathan Chilcott; while they lost import David Manning to a Match penalty for high sticking, so he should be suspended for the Huskies game. With the Pitbulls five points ahead of Haringey, they will be hoping that a win here will cement that spot in the table.
The Huskies took an impressive win over Romford last Sunday to stay in 11th place, two points ahead of Invicta. A goal-hungry Huskies side put eight goals past the sixth-placed NIHL2 Raiders, with veteran forward Ricky Rutherford bagging four goals, and further tallies coming from Luke Martin-Digby, Stephen Woodford, Joseph Willingham and Matthew Hepburn. The Huskies will still hold out hope of breaking into the top ten if they keep winning, so this is a crucial game on that quest. The result could go either way.
NIHL2 Raiders vs Oxford City Stars
There’s a big game at the Sapphire in Romford on Saturday, as the sixth placed Raiders host title chasers Oxford.
The Raiders suffered two disappointing defeats last weekend, going down 4-3 at home to Cardiff in an ill-tempered affair in which a total of 229 penalty minutes were handed out, before the aforementioned 8-6 defeat at Haringey the following day. Defenceman Daniel Hitchings was the star of the weekend for the Raiders as he scored a total of four goals across the two games, while Ewan Hill grabbed a goal in each game to take his total for the season up to 17 goals in just 14 games since he turned 16 years old and made his senior debut. The Raiders will hope to have starting netminder Brad Windebank back after he missed Sunday’s trip to Alexandra Palace.
The Stars announced a surprising coaching change midweek, with Kenny Redmond departing the club and veteran forward Lee Richardson having already taken over as player-coach prior to their trip to Guildford on Saturday. The Stars showed great character to win that game 5-4 at the Spectrum, against a Guildford side that handed Oxford their only home defeat of the season so far back in October. This time, the yellows didn’t slip up as they won in Surrey thanks to goals from Tom Davis (x2), Matthew Lawday, Michal Oravec and Dax Hedges. There was also a welcome return for Stewart Tait, playing his first game in five months after an injury in the season opener back in September.
Oxford have won their last eight games in a row, and have only lost twice all season as they look to retain their league title. They are the favourites for this game, although it won’t be easy.
Invicta Mustangs vs Slough Jets
The 12th placed Mustangs look to ground the league-leading Jets at Planet Ice Gillingham on Saturday.
The Mustangs have won three of their last five games, and beat the Lee Valley Lions 6-3 at home last weekend. A hat-trick from Harry Blake, a brace from Joseph Bliss, and a first senior goal from 16 year old Gregor Mcallan were enough to see off the bottom side in an entertaining game, with the Mustangs having led just 3-2 after the second period but then improving in the third period to take the win. They are two points behind 11th placed Haringey, with both sides still having seven games to play this season – so that could be an interesting battle towards the lower reaches of the table.
At the other end of the table, we’re starting to run out of new things to say about the Jets, who have now won 20 games in a row and sit at the top of the standings. They are currently on a run of five consecutive away games; but seem to be enjoying it so far, as they took a comfortable 9-2 win in Basingstoke last weekend after winning 9-1 at Haringey the weekend before. Making his debut against Basingstoke was Luke Smital, the 16-year-old son of player-coach Lukas Smital – and he rewarded the trust in him with an assist on his debut. Fellow 16-year-old Juha Lindgren scored his third goal for the club in just his second senior game, while the comparatively old 17-year-old Samuel Talbot put four goals past the Buffalo, as the Jets’ youth revolution continues.
This Jets are big favourites to win this game and make it 21 wins in a row stretching back to September.
Guildford Phoenix vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
The Spectrum plays host to an interesting game on Saturday as fifth placed Guildford welcome a Peterborough side currently sitting seventh.
Guildford suffered an extremely tight 5-4 home defeat to title-chasing Oxford last weekend, pushing the Stars all the way but ultimately not being able to take the win. A brace from Haydn Wootton and single goals from Jared Lane and Luke Tull weren’t enough for the Phoenix, who lost their first game after a run of four wins in a row. However, the sides directly behind them – the NIHL2 Raiders and Peterborough – both lost last weekend too, so the Phoenix were able to keep their grip on fifth place.
The Phantoms played a close game in Gosport last weekend, travelling to the south coast with just 13 skaters to face an in-form Solent Devils side, and coming away with a creditable 4-2 defeat. Jordan Liddell and Bradley Wright scored the goals for the Phantoms, while Dan Lane was the star man in goal as he turned away 48 of 52 Devils shots. Despite losing four of their last six games, the Phantoms still lie seventh and are just four points behind Guildford in the standings – so a win here would be huge for them. This should be a close game, with any result possible.
Basingstoke Buffalo vs Chelmsford Chieftains
Second placed side Chelmsford face a tricky trip to Basingstoke on Saturday as they look to put pressure on league leaders Slough.
Basingstoke have put in some good performances against title-chasing teams so far this season, but last weekend they were powerless to stop leaders Slough, as they went down 9-2 at home and became the 20th consecutive victim of the Jets juggernaut. Goals for the Buffalo came from Neil Leary and Jack Peacock, while Ethan Frain was a busy man in net as he faced 43 Jets shots, making 34 saves. They now face another difficult test at home, with the visit of Chelmsford.
The Chieftains didn’t play last weekend, with their last game coming on the 9th of February as they battered the Bracknell Hornets 13-3 on the road. Ross Brears (3+3), David Millner (2+5), Grant Bartlett (2+2) and James Ayling (1+5) all had their fun against the Hornets, as the Chieftains bounced back from a surprising 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Mustangs a few weeks prior. Chelmsford are now four points back from leaders Slough with one game in hand, so need to keep winning out and hope that the Jets drop some points somewhere. Thus this is a crucial away game for the Chieftains – and one they should be big favourites to win.
Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Lee Valley Lions
The Phantoms play their second game of the weekend on Sunday, as they welcome the Lions to Mallard Road. These two sides met at Lee Valley way back in September, with the Phantoms taking a huge 17-2 win against a short-benched Lions side thanks to their top line of Conor Pollard (5+3), former Lions captain Nick Alley (4+4) and Shaun Yardley (1+7) combining for 24 points on the night.
The Lions are a much-improved side since then, however; and in their last two games have come close to taking their second win of the season, suffering tight 5-6 and 6-3 defeats to Basingstoke and at Invicta respectively. They put up a good fight at Invicta last Saturday despite missing top scorer Tom Hnilica, with goals from Joe Berry, Gus Zimmerman and Simon Jones not quite enough as they fell to defeat on the road having trailed just 3-2 after the second period. The Lions are likely to be without defenceman Dexter Crawford this weekend, after he received a Match penalty for kneeing in the closing stages of the Mustangs game and thus will likely be suspended.
While the scoreline shouldn’t be as high as it was earlier in the season, the Phantoms are still the favourites to take the win in this game, as they look to put the pressure on the teams above them in the table.
Chelmsford Chieftains vs Bracknell Hornets
The Chieftains play their second game of the weekend, “hosting” Bracknell at their adopted home rink of Lee Valley on Sunday. As mentioned above, the Chieftains already destroyed the Hornets 13-3 on the road a few weeks back; so they will be confident of repeating the feat on “home” ice and closing that gap to Slough at the top. Chelmsford have only played one home game at Lee Valley so far – their early-season schedule was front-loaded with home games at the Riverside prior to it being closed for refurbishment in November – with the Chieftains beating Invicta 8-3 on the 22nd of December in that sole home game at Lee Valley.
The Hornets finally ended a horrendous run of six defeats on the bounce last weekend, as they beat the Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats 8-1 on the road on Sunday. Ben Ealey-Newman scored twice, while there were single goals for Jack Tarczycki, Adam Bicknell, James Eldridge, Riley Ikin, Josh Ealey-Newman and Harvey Hind-Pitcher, as the Hornets finally put their poor form behind them and were able to take a win. Nonetheless, with all due respect to the Wildcats – the Chieftains are a different proposition, as they are chasing the title and will be buoyed by that big win over the Hornets a few weeks back. So this will be a difficult game for Bracknell, and one that the Chieftains are big favourites to win.
Cardiff Fire vs Solent Devils
Last weekend was a mixed one for the Fire, as they took a big 4-3 win on the road in Romford – in a game in which emotions spilled over on numerous occasions – before losing at home to Bristol by a scoreline of 5-3 the following day. The game in Romford was both good and bad for the Fire; on the positive side, they took two big points on the road, but on the negative side they had three players tossed from the game, including Tom Smith who was assessed a Match penalty and thus missed the defeat to Bristol the next day. The weekend’s results leave the Fire in ninth place, two points behind Bracknell and Peterborough, and three points behind the Raiders – with games in hand on all of them.
But winning this game will be a big challenge, as they welcome a Devils side on a run of 15 consecutive wins, stretching back to October. In fact the only team to beat Solent this season are the league-leading Slough Jets, who did it twice. The Devils are now four points behind the Jets with two games in hand – but with head-to-head results being the first tie-breaker in the case that points are level, the Devils will need to not only win out this season if they want to clinch the league title, but also hope the Jets drop points somewhere. The Devils have shown a penchant for grinding out results even when not playing well in recent weeks – they struggled to hit top form against Peterborough and Basingstoke, but still came out with 4-2 wins each time.
Their game against Oxford on the 9th March, and their double-header against Chelmsford on the 16th and 17th of March, are absolutely huge games – so the Devils will hope to tune up for those games with a win over Cardiff here, although it won’t be easy.
Oxford City Stars vs Invicta Mustangs
Both sides play their second games of the weekend, with Oxford looking to continue their quest to defend their league title as they welcome the Mustangs to Oxpens Road.
The Stars and the Mustangs haven’t met this season yet, but Oxford have generally shown themselves to be pretty ruthless against teams lower down the table this season – so will be hoping to take a comfortable win here in what will be player-coach Lee Richardson’s third game in charge. The Stars are six points behind the leaders Slough, but have three games in hand and crucially lead the head-to-head results at the moment following an 8-2 win over the Jets on the opening day of the season.
The Mustangs have an extremely tough weekend, with games against the sides in first (Slough) and fourth (Oxford) both providing stiff tests. But we can’t forget that the Mustangs did knock off then-leaders Chelmsford last month by a score of 7-5 in a result almost nobody saw coming. So they cannot be completely written off here, although all the smart money would be on the Stars taking the win and moving one step closer to defending their league title.
Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Basingstoke Buffalo
We round off the weekend at the Link Centre on Sunday with a clash between 14th placed Swindon, and a Buffalo side one place above them in the table.
The Wildcats suffered an 8-1 home defeat to Bracknell last weekend, with their solitary goal coming through Jason Warren. Goaltender Tyler Perre was once again extremely busy in net, turning away 55 of 63 Hornets shots that he faced as the visitors dominated the shot count 63-33. Nonetheless, the NIHL2 Wildcats can be happy with the recent form, as they have taken three wins in their last six games to open up a five point cushion on bottom side Lee Valley. With just three points separating them from the Buffalo ahead, and two meetings with the Buffalo to come – this game, and then a trip to Basingstoke in March – the Wildcats will now be hoping that they can challenge the Buffalo for 13th place.
The Buffalo will feel confident of clinging onto that place though, as they have five games in hand on the Wildcats and have proven that they can beat the likes of Cardiff and Bristol on the road this season – they still have home games against both of those sides to come. This road game in Swindon should be an interesting one, and the result really could go either way.
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Haringey Huskies
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Slough Jets
17:15 NIHL2 Raiders vs Oxford City Stars
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
18:15 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Chelmsford Chieftains
17:30 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Lee Valley Lions
17:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Bracknell Hornets
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Solent Devils
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs Invicta Mustangs
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Basingstoke Buffalo
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings