This weekend is a very busy one in NIHL South 2, with a total of nine games to be played – five on Saturday and four on Sunday.
All 15 teams are in action at least once this weekend, with Cardiff, Bracknell and Swindon also pulling double duty and playing on both Saturday and Sunday.
Bristol Pitbulls vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
A West Country battle kicks off the weekend between 10th placed Bristol and 14th placed Swindon.
Bristol went down 4-2 to Oxford last weekend in a tight game against the reigning league champions. The club’s top goalscorer Olly Shone – he has 18 goals from 16 games – and Australian utility man David Manning grabbed their two goals, and Ross Miller stopped 49 of the 53 Oxford shots he faced, but that wasn’t enough to stop local rivals Oxford from taking the win as former Pitbulls netminder John Dibble backstopped the Stars to victory. Bristol have now lost four of their last five games, and six of their last seven – so will hope to use winless Swindon as a springboard back into better form.
The Wildcats made a tough trip to Gosport last Saturday, unsurprisingly going down to the Solent Devils. The final scoreline of 6-0 could have been worse for the Wiltshire side – they had gone down 10-2 at home to the Devils earlier in the season – but it nonetheless highlighted a real problem with the Wildcats this season: they don’t score enough goals. They have just 22 goals now in 17 games, a scoring rate of 1.3 per game. Even bottom club Lee Valley have a rate of 2 goals per game. Swindon are going to need to find their scoring touch if they want to start taking some victories this season.
Despite Bristol’s recent patchy form, expect them to have too much for Swindon in this game and to come out on the winning side.
NIHL2 Raiders vs Slough Jets
A tasty clash awaits in Romford as the fifth placed Raiders host the second placed side Slough.
The NIHL2 Raiders currently lie fifth in their first season of existence, above established sides such as Bracknell and Peterborough – a very good achievement for what is quite a young side. Last weekend they welcomed Chelmsford to the Sapphire for a local derby – and while they went down 6-4, they gave a good account of themselves considering import forward Kamil Kinkor and veteran Alan Lack were both absent. Tommy Huggett netted twice for the Raiders against Chelmsford, with Daniel Hitchings and Brandon Webster also getting a goal each, but it wasn’t quite enough to beat the league leaders.
And after the league leaders visited the Sapphire last week, now it’s the turn of the side that are hot on their heels in the league. Slough increased their unbeaten streak to 16 games last week with a 3-0 shutout win over Haringey. Adam Rosbottom, Nathan Darmanin and Sam Talbot got the goals for the Jets while Brett Shepherd celebrated a 40-shot shutout. While the Jets are still winning games, their early-season goalscoring form has dried up a bit; they scored 78 goals in their first nine games this season, and “just” 45 in the nine games since. They have also been rocked by the news that player-coach Lukas Smital can neither play nor coach until the 3rd of March due to “breaches of IHUK & EIHA regulations regarding requesting permission to travel abroad with the Slough U18s.” Time will tell how that affects the Jets going into the sharp end of the season.
The Raiders have given a good account of themselves this season in games against the top sides, and expect them to do it again here – but the Jets haven’t lost a game in over four months, so are favourites for the victory here.
Invicta Mustangs vs Chelmsford Chieftains
It’s a battle of 12th vs 1st in Kent as the Mustangs welcome the Chieftains on Saturday.
Invicta did not play last weekend, with their last game coming two weekends ago as they took a big 3-1 win over the Basingstoke Buffalo, the team directly behind them in the table. Joseph Bliss, Kevin Lake and Jake Stedman were all on target for the Mustangs against the Buffalo, with netminder Matthew Passmore stopping 34 of 35 shots in a tight encounter. That was the Mustangs’ fourth win of the season, after victories over Lee Valley, Swindon and Haringey earlier on in the campaign.
The Chieftains went to Romford last weekend for the first time in many years, taking on the NIHL2 Raiders in a derby game. It was tough work for the Chieftains against an energetic Raiders side, but the league leaders came out on top with a 6-4 win to bounce back from their recent defeat to Slough and keep their spot at the top of the league. Ross Brears grabbed two goals and one assist against the Raiders – he leads the whole league with 32+38=70 from just 18 games – with Grant Bartlett (x2), Cameron Bartlett – the latter returning after suspension – and Bradley Moore scoring the other goals.
This game is a must-win for the Chieftains if they want to keep their spot at the top of the pile, with several teams breathing down their necks. And they are big favourites for this game, so expect them to come out on top.
Bracknell Hornets vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
Two teams who would have expected a lot more from their respective seasons clash at the Hive on Saturday, as the Hornets – who were third last season but sit only seventh at the moment – welcome the Phantoms, who currently sit ninth, having finished fifth last campaign.
The Hornets have had a lot of upheaval in recent weeks; firstly player-coach Danny Hughes stepped back from coaching duties to concentrate on coaching Bracknell’s U20s, leaving the Hornets now being coached by the duo of Carl Graham and Mark Saunders. Secondly, goaltender James Richardson stepped back due to work commitments and was replaced by Mark Duffy, who rejoins the Hornets after a few years at Oxford. And finally, defenceman Tom Avery was also released due to commitments away from the ice.
The Hornets didn’t play last weekend, with their last game coming two weeks ago as they went down 4-3 to the Raiders at home, despite goals from Jack Tarczycki, Danny Hughes and Jakub Fojtik. That defeat, coupled with other results elsewhere, has seen them slip to seventh in the table, seven points outside a playoff spot.
One point and two places further back from Bracknell are the Phantoms, who went down 4-3 at home to Cardiff last weekend and thus were overtaken for 8th place by the Welsh side. Goals from Clint Herring, Sam Barlow and Nick Alley weren’t enough for the Phantoms as they slipped to a disappointing defeat against a Cardiff side that brought 13 skaters to Peterborough.
Nonetheless, a win for Peterborough here would see them move above the Hornets in the table. This clash between two teams that are somewhat below their own expectations is difficult to call, with any result possible on the night.
Cardiff Fire vs Guildford Phoenix
Saturday’s action is capped off with an interesting tie between eighth placed Cardiff and a Guildford side that sit two places, and two points, above them in the table.
Cardiff showed great team spirit in Peterborough last weekend, travelling to face the Phantoms with 13 skaters and taking a 4-3 win as mentioned above. Stephen Deacon, Jordan Powell, Morgan Evans and Elis Sheppard were all in the goals for the Welsh side as they moved above Peterborough into eighth in the standings. A win against Guildford here would put them level on points with the Surrey side, with three games in hand – so there’s all to play for at the Viola Arena on Saturday.
Guildford took what appears to be a routine 8-3 win against bottom club Lee Valley last Saturday, but it was a tough game for them until 48 minutes in. The Lions led 2-1 after the first period, and the Phoenix were only 4-3 up at the 48 minute mark before four late goals gave them an 8-3 victory. The stars of the show against the Lions were, without question, Taylor Wootton who bagged five goals, and player-coach Andrew Hemmings who bagged five assists. Jacob Stoodley also had a solid night in net, stopping 27 of 30 Lee Valley shots. That win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Phoenix and was their first win of 2019 – they will hope to use that as a springboard to move up the table.
This is an extremely difficult game to call between two teams close to each other in the tightly-packed mid-table region. Any result is possible.
Haringey Huskies vs Bracknell Hornets
The 11th placed Huskies look to keep touch with the top ten in the league as they welcome Bracknell to Ally Pally on Sunday.
Haringey travelled to Slough last weekend and gave a good account of themselves, going down 3-0 to the side currently sitting second in the league. While the Huskies were shut out in that game, it wasn’t for the want of trying as they peppered Brett Shepherd with 40 shots – however Slough’s young goalie kept each and every one of them out. Shepherd’s opposite number in the Haringey net, David Wride, also had a strong night between the pipes as he stopped 44 of 47 Slough attempts. The Huskies won back-to-back games against Swindon before the Slough defeat, and will look to get the winning feeling back as soon as possible.
The Hornets will play their second game of the weekend after their clash with Peterborough the previous night. These two sides met earlier in the season at the Hive, with the Hornets taking a 6-1 win thanks to goals from Connor Hutchison (x2), Danny Hughes (x2), Ben Ealey-Newman and former Haringey man Daniel Clayton. Haringey’s sole goal that night came from import Gheorghe Dragomir.
If the Hornets play to their strengths here, a similar result should be possible and they should have enough to defeat the Huskies.
Cardiff Fire vs Oxford City Stars
Cardiff play their second home game of the weekend on Sunday, as they welcome fourth placed Oxford to the Viola Arena.
The Fire’s home record this season to date is four wins and three losses, with two of those three losses coming to the top two sides in the league in Slough and Chelmsford, as well as a surprise opening day defeat to Basingstoke. Top scorer for the Fire this season is Jordan Powell with 13+14=27, while Tamas Elias and Jackson Price (both 23 points) are also having strong seasons for the Welsh side.
Oxford kept their ambitions to defend their league title on track last weekend, beating Bristol 4-2 and remaining within eight points of leaders Chelmsford with four games in hand. Tom Davis (x2), Conor Redmond and Joe Edwards scored the goals against local rivals Bristol to give Oxford their 13th win of the season. It was announced last weekend that Joe Edwards will leave the club to move to NIHL1 side Milton Keynes Thunder, and that Sunday’s game in Cardiff will be his last in an Oxford shirt this season. With 13+15=28, Edwards is Oxford’s third best scorer at the moment and will be tough to replace.
They do seem to have a good replacement already lined up however, as Michael Whillock – who scored 21+22=43 for the club last year before moving to Svenstaviks HK in the Swedish fourth tier – returns to the UK and rejoins the Stars for the rest of the season.
With Cardiff playing their second game of the weekend, and the Stars buoyed by the addition of Whillock to their roster, expect an Oxford win here as they continue to put pressure on the three sides above them in the league.
Basingstoke Buffalo vs Solent Devils
We have a Hampshire derby to look forward to on Sunday as 12th placed Basingstoke welcome a Solent side currently sitting third in the league.
Basingstoke took a big 8-2 home win against Lee Valley last Sunday to move to within one point of the Invicta Mustangs ahead of them, having played only 13 games to Invicta’s 17. Goalscorers against Lee Valley were Jason Newman (x3), Samuel Brooks (x2), Cameron Buckle, Warren Jones and Mark Austen. The win over the Lions was Basingstoke’s fourth of the season, and broke a four game losing streak too.
However they will have much tougher opposition on Sunday, as a Solent side with 12 wins in a row come to town looking to extend that streak to 13 games. The Devils are only four points behind leaders Chelmsford with two games in hand, with Solent’s only two defeats this season coming against second placed side Slough. Solent took a comfortable 6-0 win against Swindon last weekend – goals coming from Mitchell Murray, Alex Cole, Alex Trendall, Elliot Lewis, Richard Facey and Callum Farrell – and will expect to take a similar result here.
Anything other than a Devils win would be a surprise here – expect the Devils to extend their winning streak to 13 on the bounce.
Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Lee Valley Lions
A true basement battle rounds out Sunday’s action, as 14th placed Swindon host 15th placed side Lee Valley.
Neither side has managed a win this season, but Swindon sit one point ahead of the Lions courtesy of an overtime defeat to Peterborough back in early December. A look at the stats is interesting; while the Lions score more goals than the Wildcats (2.0 per game against 1.3), the East London side concede significantly more (12.1 per game against Swindon’s 7.4 per game). So it will be intriguing to find out which side has the upper hand here.
The Lions played well for 48 minutes last Saturday against Guildford, trailing 4-3 before ultimately losing the game 8-3. Czech forward Tom Hnilica continued his strong season for the side with his 11th and 12th goals of the campaign, with Gus Zimmerman picking up the other goal. Sunday’s trip to Basingstoke was a difficult one, with the Lions going down 8-2 to the Buffalo. Player-coach James Joseph picked up his first goal since November 2015 in that game, and Zimmerman scored his second goal of the weekend, but the Lions ultimately went down to their 18th defeat of the season.
As they say, “somebody’s 0 has to go” – one side will leave Swindon on Sunday night with their first win of the season, but which one will it be?
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
17:15 NIHL2 Raiders vs Slough Jets
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Chelmsford Chieftains
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
18:30 Cardiff Fire vs Guildford Phoenix
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Bracknell Hornets
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Oxford City Stars
18:15 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Solent Devils
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Lee Valley Lions
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings