With just three weekends to go in the NIHL South 2 season and four teams still with a mathematical chance of taking the league title, there’s still all to play for.
This weekend’s main event is without doubt the clash between leaders Slough and third placed Oxford; while other title contenders Solent and Chelmsford are also in action on Saturday.
Invicta Mustangs vs Solent Devils
Fresh off a double-header against title rivals Chelmsford in which they took three points, the Devils know only a win will do as they travel to Kent to take on the Mustangs.
Invicta currently sit 11th, level on points with Haringey behind and with both teams having two games yet to play. The Mustangs went down 6-2 at home to title contenders Oxford last Saturday, with Joseph Bliss and Regan O’Neil getting the goals for the home side. The Mustangs have a tough end to the season, with today’s visit of the Devils followed up by a road trip to Cardiff to face the fire next weekend.
The Devils played out two thrillers against Chelmsford last weekend, taking a 8-5 home win in Gosport on Saturday and following that up with a tense 5-4 shootout loss on the road on Sunday. Richard Facey scored a combined four goals across the two games, while Mitchell Murray had a goal and six assists in total. Those results netted the Devils three points, which puts them three points behind leaders Slough with a game in hand. Solent know that only wins will do from here, and they still need to hope that the Jets slip up somewhere in order to take the league crown.
There is a lot riding on this game for the Devils – and while Invicta can be tough opponents, Solent are definite favourites to take the win here and keep the pressure on the Jets ahead.
Chelmsford Chieftains vs Bristol Pitbulls
The Chieftains still have a slim mathematical chance of taking the league title after their win against Solent last Sunday, and today take on a Bristol side against whom they slipped up earlier this season.
It was back in November that the Chieftains suffered defeat at the hands of the Pitbulls, going down 3-2 in overtime to an Olly Shone winning goal. It was the Chieftains’ second defeat of the season after winning 10 of their opening 11 games, and is a game they may look back on as one that potentially cost them a shot at the league title.
The Chieftains scored two points from a possible four last weekend, going down 8-5 in Gosport to the Devils but then grabbing two points after a shootout win at their adopted home rink at Lee Valley. James Ayling was the Chieftains’ best scorer last weekend, scoring a total of three goals and four assists for seven points over the two games.
The ninth placed Pitbulls come into this game off the back of a big win of their own last weekend against the Bracknell Hornets, as they won 4-1 to move to within three points of the Hornets, having played one game less. Olly Shone scored twice while there were single goals from Giacomo Raffaelli and Steve Osman, as the Pitbulls avenged a 4-1 defeat to the Hornets earlier in the season. Bristol are now well into the battle for sixth place in the league, which looks like it could go right down to the last game of the season.
The Pitbulls are a potential banana skin for the Chieftains, as the game earlier this season proved. But with the Chieftains knowing that they cannot afford to drop any more points, they should have enough in the bag to get the win here.
Haringey Huskies vs Basingstoke Buffalo
An intriguing game goes down at Ally Pally between two neighbours in the table, as Haringey in 12th welcome Basingstoke in 13th.
The Huskies hosted Cardiff last Sunday, and slipped to their fourth successive defeat as they went down 5-3 to the Fire. Gheorghe Dragomir scored two goals and James Hepburn grabbed one, but it wasn’t quite enough for the Huskies to take the win. That result kept the Huskies in 12th, behind the Mustangs and ahead of today’s opponents who are four points behind but with a game in hand. This game against Basingstoke is the Huskies’ first of two games this weekend, as on Sunday they travel to Cardiff for the return game against the Fire.
The Buffalo won an eleven goal thriller against the Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats last weekend to clinch a minimum of 13th in the table and ensure that the Wildcats will finish behind them this season. Basingstoke got goals from Samuel Brooks, Warren Jones (both x2), Cameron Buckle and Sam Dollin, to take their first win in eight games. It was their second 6-5 win recently, after winning by the same margin at Lee Valley last month too, in what had been their last win at that point.
With the Buffalo still mathematically able to catch and pass the Huskies for 12th place, this game is important for both sides. The Huskies may have the slight edge at home, but it should be a close one.
Slough Jets vs Oxford City Stars
It’s time for the big one: leaders Slough, who have now won 24 games in a row, welcome a third placed Oxford side who know that only a win will do to keep them in the title hunt.
One of the two games that the Jets have lost this season was away to Oxford way back on the 15th of September, and it was a heavy 8-2 defeat too. However, the Jets have improved a lot since then, adding some fresh faces to the line-up and playing superb four-line hockey, no matter the opponent. They now know that the title is in their own hands – if they win their last two games against Oxford and Peterborough, nobody can catch them.
The Stars will be doing their best to take the win here, and will be hoping to repeat that aforementioned win over the Jets back in September. It’s been a pretty successful season for Oxford, as they have only lost three times – twice to Solent and once to Guildford – yet they still find themselves in third in the league, which shows how dominant the top sides have been this season.
There are many players to watch on both sides, as both teams can boast plenty of scoring power. Jets player-coach Lukas Smital has 78 points in just 17 games, while Sean Norris (73) and Sam Talbot (58) have also impressed in their first seasons in this league. Meanwhile, Oxford player-coach Lee Richardson is their top scorer with 47 points, with Michal Oravec next up on 44 points. The Jets have scored 7.4 goals per game this season compared to Oxford’s 6.7, but have conceded slightly more per game (2.8 per game compared to Oxford’s 2.5).
This should be a cracker, and is extremely hard to predict. What is for sure is that it’s one of the most important games of the season for both sides. Bring it on!
Bracknell Hornets vs Guildford Phoenix
The Hornets look to take vital points in the battle for sixth in the league, as they welcome fifth placed Guildford to the Hive.
The Hornets had a mixed weekend last time out, going down 4-1 on the road to Bristol on Saturday but then comprehensively beating the NIHL Raiders 7-2 on Sunday, also on the road. That enabled them to leapfrog the Raiders into sixth in the table on head-to-head results, with both teams level on 28 points. With the likes of Peterborough, Bristol and Cardiff still also in the battle, the Hornets will be looking to take a win here to secure that sixth spot, and exercise some damage limitation on what has been a difficult season for the Berkshire side.
A win won’t be easy though, as they come up against a red-hot Guildford side. The Phoenix secured fifth place in the league with a 9-2 win over Lee Valley last Sunday, and have only lost one of their last nine outings. Andy Hemmings (49 points) and Josh Abbott (47 points) are both in the top ten in league scoring, while Jared Lane (34) and Bailey Wootton (33) are also having impressive seasons.
This should be be a good game – the Hornets won 4-3 on the road in the return fixture earlier in the season, and this could be another close one.
Lee Valley Lions vs NIHL2 Raiders
The Lions play their last home game of the season as they welcome the Raiders to Lee Valley Ice Centre.
Bottom club Lee Valley went down 9-2 on the road in Guildford last week, with Conner Smith and Richard Hodge grabbing their goals. As has been their way in recent away games, they put up a good fight in the early stages before tiring later on and shipping a number of late goals. Star of the show against Guildford was netminder James Andrew, who stopped 68 of 77 shots(!) against the Phoenix and kept his side in it for longer than they otherwise would have been.
The Raiders had a poor weekend, losing twice to slip from sixth to seventh in the table. They also conceded 16 goals over the two games. The Raiders took a 3-0 lead in Slough against the league-leading Jets on Saturday before going down 9-4, before a 7-2 home defeat to Bracknell who were directly behind them in the table. The Romford side only have two games left, this one and then a trip to Oxford next weekend, so will know this is a must-win game for them if they still have hopes of moving up a spot in the league.
Expect a Raiders win here as they look to finish as high up the table as possible.
Cardiff Fire vs Haringey Huskies
The Huskies are in action for the second time this weekend, as they hit the road for their very last game of the season and make the trip to Cardiff to take on the Fire.
These two sides met just last week in North London, with the Fire taking a 5-3 win thanks to goals from Viktor Langseth, Josh Haslam, Jackson Price, Elis Sheppard and an empty netter from Jordan Powell. The Fire still have four games to play this season, and could potentially reach as high as sixth place if other results go their way too. The win against the Huskies was their first in five games stretching back to mid-February, so came at a crucial time for the Welsh side. Now they look to repeat the feat at home one week later.
The Huskies will look to finish the season on a high, although time will tell how large a roster they are able to take to Wales on a Sunday night. That could be one of the keys to this game, which should be a fairly close one if both sides are able to ice strong rosters.
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Solent Devils
17:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Bristol Pitbulls
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:45 Slough Jets vs Oxford City Stars
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Guildford Phoenix
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs NIHL2 Raiders
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Haringey Huskies
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings
Note: Basingstoke’s home game vs Cardiff has been awarded as a 0-0 draw due to ice issues.