The NIHL South 2 season rolls on this weekend with eight games on the schedule – five on Saturday and three on Sunday.
The biggest of all the eight games comes on Sunday, with the top-of-the-table clash between leaders Chelmsford – who are undefeated this season thus far – and reigning champions Oxford who currently sit in second place.
And in a rare occurrence for the league, all 15 teams are in action this weekend across the eight games; with Bracknell the only team doing double duty and playing twice.
Solent Devils vs Raiders NIHL2
Solent bounced back from their two losses in Slough two weekends ago with a narrow 4-2 win in Peterborough last Sunday. The south coast side sit in an unusually-low sixth place in the league at the moment, but do have games in hand on most of the teams above them. They will look to make a statement with a win over the Raiders on Saturday, as they once again look to make Gosport ice rink a fortress – an illusion that was shattered two weeks ago when Slough won 8-3 there. With the likes of Alex Murray, Richard Facey, and recent returnees Drew Campbell and Mitchell Murray, the Devils will hope that they have enough to overcome the Raiders in this one.
The Raiders took an extremely tight 5-4 win after a shootout against Guildford last Saturday in what was a wild game. There were five goals within the first 16 minutes of the game, and then just two more in the next 43 minutes – before the Raiders scored a shorthanded equaliser through Alan Lack in the final minute to send it to a shootout which they ultimately won. This result puts the Raiders side in seventh place, level on points with their opponents in this game who lie in sixth – so a win here would see them break into the top six, and could see them going as high as fourth. And with veterans Lack and Kamil Kinkor both firing at the moment, the Raiders do have a decent chance of getting a result from this one.
it may be early in the season, but this is a crucial game for the Devils, as three early defeats in the season would already significantly harm their title ambitions. Expect a fired-up Solent side to have the edge in this one, but they will definitely have to play better than they did in the last three games – otherwise the Raiders will be ready to pounce.
Bristol Pitbulls vs Basingstoke Buffalo
High-flying Bristol sit in fifth place in the league at the moment – and although last weekend’s 4-1 loss to Bracknell dropped them from their previous fourth place, they are still enjoying a strong start to the season. Olly Shone scored the lone goal in that defeat to Bracknell, and it was already his fifth goal of the season to add to two assists. The top scorers in the Pitbulls’ ranks are Steve Osman (11 points), Richard Hargreaves and Jamie Newton (10 points each), and they will look to get good production from their top forwards in this game against a Buffalo side that has not played for almost a month.
Basingstoke’s last game came on the 14th of October, and they have only played four games so far this campaign – the least of any team. Since their 4-3 opening win in Cardiff, the Hampshire side have lost three on the bounce and only scored nine goals in their four games to date, while conceding 26. However netminder Aaron Burton has been on impressive form despite those goals conceded, stopping 164 of the 189 shots fired at his net in those four games. They will once again need him to be on top form against a dangerous Bristol side, while also needing a bit more scoring from their forwards too. Only four Buffalo players – Oscar Evans, Liam Coleman (three each), Mark Austen (two) and Cameron Buckle (one) have scored a goal this season. so the offensive load needs to be shared around more effectively if the Buffalo are to have a better chance of winning.
Bristol have to be the favourites in this one – the Buffalo will need another strong game from Burton, and an upturn in offensive production, if they are to take something from this game against a well-drilled Pitbulls side.
Slough Jets vs Invicta Mustangs
The Jets continue to fly high this season; last weekend they followed up their double win over reigning playoff champions Solent with a huge 12-0 win over Cardiff. The main statistic that stands out is the shot count – Cardiff actually had 54 shots to Slough’s 55, but the Jets’ young goaltending tandem of Matt Smital and Brett Shepherd stopped absolutely everything that came their way, while the Jets were absolutely ruthless at the other end in bagging 12 goals. Sean Norris (5+1), Sam Talbot (2+3), Lukas Smital (1+7) and Danny Rose (0+5) were once again the stars of the show when it came to scoring, as the Jets’ fearsome offence rolls on. Slough have now scored 64 goals in eight games, and sit third in the table having won their last six on the bounce.
Invicta took a crucial 6-0 win against Swindon last weekend as they look to move away from the lower reaches of the table – although it must be said that Swindon travelled to the game with only nine skaters. Nonetheless, you can only beat who is put in front of you – and the Mustangs duly dispatched one of their rivals towards the bottom of the table with an efficient performance. Five different players scored goals, with Michael Stokes bagging a brace, while both netminders Matthew Passmore and Lucy Gruber got time between the pipes to share a shutout. However the game against Slough this weekend will be a totally different kettle of fish, especially travelling to the Hangar where Slough have already dispatched Lee Valley 18-4 and Cardiff 12-0 this season.
This time last year, we would have expected a game between Slough and Invicta to be a tight one, as they were two of the smaller teams in the division. But from what the Jets have shown so far this season, they have to be considered definite favourites in this encounter and it would be a surprise if the Mustangs could get anything from this game.
Bracknell Hornets vs Cardiff Fire
The Hornets bounced back from two defeats on the bounce with a 4-1 win over Bristol last Saturday, which moved them up to fourth in the table. There is also a feeling that the Hornets haven’t really caught fire yet and started to play their best hockey, despite a win-loss record of 4-2 on the season. They have “only” scored 35 goals in their six games to date, while at the same point last season they had already bagged 54. But there is enough firepower in the Hornets side to suggest that they will soon break free of the shackles and start to score more goals, and Cardiff could be the right opponents at the right time, having lost their last road game by a score of 0-12 to Slough last Saturday.
However, Cardiff then followed that up with a 10-2 win over Lee Valley the following day, so it was an extremely up-and-down weekend for the Fire, who now sit eighth in the league – but only one point behind Bracknell who sit in fourth, so there really is all to play for in this game. Jackson Price is on top form at the moment, with 17 points from seven games, while Tamas Elias (12) and Jordan Powell (11) have also reached double-figure points totals already. Young netminder Lewis Davies left the Slough game through injury and it is unknown if he will play on Saturday, but in James Whiting and player-coach Chris Douglas, the Fire have adequate cover in that position.
The Hornets will hope to come away from this game with a big win to cement themselves in the top four, while the Fire can move above the Hornets in the table if they take victory. So there really is all to play for in this one.
Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Haringey Huskies
Two sides that have only won twice this season square off in this game, with Peterborough making an unusually poor start to the season to only lie in tenth place after seven games played. Their only regulation win was a 17-2 thumping of bottom side Lee Valley, and they also put Bristol away in overtime; however the other five games have been defeats. Of course, four of those losses came to teams currently in the top six in the league (Oxford, Slough, Chelmsford and Solent) but nonetheless, those are teams that the Phantoms would have wanted to compete with for a playoff berth this season. While team veterans Conor Pollard and Shaun Yardley (17 points each) and newcomer Nick Alley (13 points) form a dangerous top forward line, the drop-off after those three is very noticeable – the Phantoms simply need more secondary scoring if they want to start winning some games and moving up the table.
The Huskies have won two and lost six so far, with the start of the season not exactly going as planned. A tight win over Guildford, and an 8-1 win over London rivals Lee Valley, are all they have to show for the season thus far and they sit in 12th place in the table at the moment. We already mentioned Peterborough’s lack of scoring, but the Huskies are also struggling for goals right now; Seb Downing and Stuart Appleby have scored four each, while Stephen Woodford, import Gheorghe Dragomir and player-general manager Lee Mercer have three each, but there is no consistent goalscorer on the team right now – as evidenced by the fact that the Huskies are scoring just 3.25 goals per game on average. Discipline is also a concern, as they average almost 50 penalty minutes per game too.
This could be the perfect game for Peterborough to get back to winning ways as they finally face a team that are not in the top six, but it could also be a great opportunity for the Huskies to find their scoring touch against an off-form Phantoms side. This could be a fascinating encounter.
Lee Valley Lions vs Bracknell Hornets
The Lions are still bottom of the table and still awaiting their first win of the season, but showed more promising signs in their last two games as they went down 8-1 at home to Haringey and 10-2 on the road to Cardiff. In both of those games, they limited their opponents to two goals each in the first and third periods, with only the middle period of each game seeing a flurry of goals. Especially in Cardiff where they travelled with a very short bench, the Lions did not fold over in the last period and let in a glut of goals as in several games earlier in the season, instead keeping the result at a respectable level. They also handed a debut to forward Gus Zimmerman against Cardiff, and he tallied two assists on his debut, while Michael Jacobs scored his first goal for the team since the 2008-09 season after many years out of the game – the team will hope it is the first of many.
Unfortunately for the Lions, they cannot build on those promising signs with a game against a lesser opponent, instead welcoming fourth placed Bracknell to the Den on Sunday. The Hornets will have already faced Cardiff the previous evening, but will still be considered red-hot favourites against the Lions whatever happens. The Hornets won 11-1 at Lee Valley last season, and will hope to score lots of goals here and continue to cement their place in the top four of the league standings.
The focus for the Lions in this game has to be on keeping the score down and continue to make improvements ahead of more winnable games to come. If Bracknell play a smart game and don’t get over-confident, the Lions are very unlikely to get anything from this one.
Oxford City Stars vs Chelmsford Chieftains
The fans in Oxford will have a big top-of-the-table clash to enjoy on Sunday evening, as the reigning league champions host undefeated Chelmsford.
The City Stars have a win-loss record of 6-1 to begin the season, surprisingly losing to Guildford a few weeks ago after winning their first six games on the bounce. They sit second, six points off Chelmsford but with two games in hand. So a win here is crucial for Oxford, despite this game coming relatively early in the season. The champions haven’t quite reached the heights of last season yet, currently scoring 7.1 goals per game on average compared to last season’s barely believable figure of 8.6 per game. Their 4-1 win over Haringey a few weeks ago was surprisingly narrow, whilst they only put two goals past Guildford in that 2-3 loss last time out despite firing 22 shots on the Phoenix net in the last period alone. So there is definite room for improvement.
On the other side of the coin, the Chieftains really don’t have much room for improvement – statistically at least. With a record of played nine, won nine, and an average of 9.7 goals scored per game, the Chieftains are on fire this season. However a few caveats: they have played eight of their nine games to date at home, and they have only played one game against a side in the top top six – and that was their narrowest win to date, 7-6 over Slough. This game will be a huge test for the Chieftains, whose top seven forwards – Ross Brears, James Ayling, Bradley Moore, Courtney Grant, Thomas Wilson and the recently-returned Bartlett twins Cameron and Grant – have all already passed the ten point mark (and in Brears’ case, the 40 point mark(!)), but whose defence has not been truly tested in many of the games they have played to date.
Games between these two sides last season failed to live up to the hype, with Oxford winning 4-0 at the Riverside in Chelmsford and then 11-4 at Oxpens Road – however this game looks to be a lot closer considering the run the Chieftains are on. Expect fireworks in this one, and it really could go either way.
Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Guildford Phoenix
Swindon are still looking for their first point of the season, and will hope they can upset Guildford at the Link Centre in order to get it. The Wildcats have lost all six of their games to date, and only sit above Lee Valley on goal difference. They have also struggled to raise a team for their last two away trips, taking eight skaters to Chelmsford and nine to Invicta – with netminders Liam Maguire and Tyler Perre preventing the scorelines from getting ugly in both of those games. However in their two home games to date, the Wildcats have iced benches of 17 skaters, so it really is hard to predict what kind of team they will ice for any one game.
Guildford’s season has been topsy-turvy to say the least, starting with a win at Peterborough before two defeats against Chelmsford and Haringey, two more wins against Basingstoke and – surprisingly – Oxford, and then a penalty shootout defeat in Romford last weekend. This puts the Phoenix ninth in the table on seven points, but it must be stated that they have not played a single home game yet this season, with next weekend’s visit of Chelmsford being the first time a team will visit the Spectrum this season. If the Phoenix can end their seven game road trip to start the season with a positive win-loss record, that should give them the confidence they need leading into the many home games they have to come. Their top scorer at the moment is Josh Abbott, who has 8+5=13 in just five games, and he will look to continue that run in Wiltshire on Sunday.
The flow of this game could really depend on how big a bench the Wildcats can raise. With a full bench, they could be hard for the Phoenix to break down; but with a small number of skaters, the Phoenix should have a simpler task ahead of them. Either way, Guildford are the favourites in this one.
482days will have #gamedaylive updates from around the league on Sunday as well as live match night twitter from the table-topping NIHL2 South clash between Oxford and Chelmsford.
Looking for info on the NIHL1 South games? You can find the NIHL1 South preview HERE.
17:00 Solent Devils vs Raiders NIHL2
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:45 Slough Jets vs Invicta Mustangs
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Cardiff Fire
18:15 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Haringey Huskies
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Bracknell Hornets
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs Chelmsford Chieftains
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Guildford Phoenix
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings