After last weekend where only two matches took place to close out 2018 – Bracknell beating Guildford 4-3 in a shootout and Peterborough ending the year on a high with a 5-3 win over Basingstoke – we start off 2019 with seven matches this upcoming weekend.
The two games on Saturday pit winless Lee Valley against Cardiff, and Bristol against the Raiders; while there are five matches on Sunday with league leaders Chelmsford and current third placed side Solent both in action amongst others.
Lee Valley Lions vs Cardiff Fire
The Lions closed out 2018 three weeks ago with their best performance of the season in going down to a 10-5 defeat to league leaders Chelmsford. It was the first time this season that the Lions had scored five goals, as well as being their smallest losing margin of the campaign so far. Czech forward Tom Hnilica scored a brace of goals in the Chelmsford game, with the other goals coming from Gus Zimmerman, Richard Hodge and Dexter Crawford. They will hope to build on those positive signs in the first game of 2019, and could hand a debut to Latvian defenceman Elvis Timofejevs, who has joined the club as a second non-British trained player alongside the aforementioned Hnilica. League rules only allow one import player to ice per game, so it will be interesting to see what the Lions’ strategy is for the rest of the season in this regard.
The Fire seem to have waited ages since their last game – they haven’t played since the 1st of December when the Raiders came to town and were dispatched 6-5. Cardiff goals in that game came through Jordan Powell (x3), Joe Morris, Stephen Deacon and Jackson Price, while young goaltender Lewis Davies put in another strong performance as he stopped 37 of 42 shots on net. It’s been an inconsistent season for the Fire so far, winning six and losing five games to sit 10th in the table as things stand, albeit with several games in hand on the teams ahead of them. The Fire beat the Lions 10-2 in Cardiff earlier in the season.
One factor that could affect the outcome of this game is how strong a roster the Fire travel to East London with, as they are known for travelling light to some away games. Last season they won a tight game at Lee Valley 5-4 in overtime, and the Lions will be hoping that they can get something similar out of this game to start 2019 off with a bang.
Bristol Pitbulls vs Raiders NIHL2
In a game that was originally set for the 2nd of March but has now been rescheduled, the ninth placed Bristol Pitbulls host the Raiders, who currently lie seventh.
The Pitbulls have won six games, lost seven in regulation, and lost a further two in overtime, as they have struggled to string a run of results together this season. They haven’t won more than two games on the bounce so far, while their longest losing streak was four games between October and November. In their last game, the Pitbulls went down 5-8 against the Slough Jets; while earlier in the season, Bristol won a thriller in Romford against the NIHL2 Raiders by a score of 4-3, as Olly Shone scored the game winner with just 11 seconds left in regulation time.
The Raiders for their part have won eight and lost five games to currently sit seventh in the table, with their last game coming on the 22nd of December where they suffered a 3-4 overtime loss in Guildford. Raiders goals in that game against Guildford came through George Gell (x2) and Tommy Huggett; while Huggett was also on the scoresheet in the aforementioned 3-4 defeat to Bristol in Romford earlier in the season, as were Matt Brown and Kamil Kinkor.
This is a tough game to predict, and it could be another very close one.
Raiders NIHL2 vs Solent Devils
The Raiders are back in action on Sunday, this time at home as they welcome third placed Solent to the Sapphire in Romford.
When these two sides met earlier in the season in Gosport, the Raiders travelled light (10+1 players) and came away with a creditable 8-5 defeat. Tommy Huggett (x2), Kamil Kinkor, George Gell and Alan Lack got the Raiders goals that night, with Brad Windebank in net turning away 48 of 56 shots he faced. With this Sunday’s game against the Devils being a home game, the Raiders will hope to have a larger roster for this game, and will be aiming to keep the scoreline even closer.
The Devils have won nine in a row since suffering twin defeats to Slough in October, and sit third in the table at the moment just two points off Slough, with a game in hand. They have scored eight or more goals in five of their last nine games, with the main scoring threats (as always) being Richard Facey and Alex Murray, who are joint-third in league scoring with 50 points each. They have also had strong goaltending throughout the season, with both Christian Cole and Matt Colclough registering save percentages above 92%.
This will be a tough ask for the Raiders, with the Devils favourites to win their tenth game on the bounce and draw level on points with second placed side Slough.
Bracknell Hornets vs Invicta Mustangs
The Hornets currently lie sixth in the table, and pulled to within a point of Guildford above them (with two games in hand) when they beat the Phoenix in a shootout last Saturday. Hornets goals during regulation time in that game came from Danny Hughes (x2) and Connor Hutchison. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Berkshire side, as they have lost three of their last five games (and five of their last ten) and lie five points outside a playoff spot. As one of the top four sides last season – and the host of the playoff finals weekend once again this year – they will be desperate to finish in the top four and qualify for that finals weekend. Thus, games against teams lower down in the table such as Invicta are absolutely crucial.
The Mustangs are currently 11th, with three wins, 11 regulation losses and one overtime loss putting them on seven points. They have lost seven of their last eight games, with a big win over Haringey – who lie 12th, level on points with the Mustangs – sandwiched in between the defeats. The goal of the Mustangs this season really has to be to finish ahead of the likes of Haringey, Basingstoke, Swindon and Lee Valley – a goal they are looking on course to achieve at the moment.
Invicta hosted Bracknell last month, with the Hornets winning 8-3. A similar result here in the return fixture would not be a big surprise at all.
Cardiff Fire vs Chelmsford Chieftains
Cardiff play their second game of the weekend on Sunday, this time at home against league leaders Chelmsford. The Fire haven’t played in over a month as mentioned earlier, but did win their last two games which came against Swindon and the NIHL2 Raiders. Top points scorers for the Fire this season to date are Jackson Price (10+9) and Jordan Powell (8+11), both of whom have 19 points, while Tamas Elias isn’t far behind on 9+7=16. The best goaltender statistically is Lewis Davies with a save percentage of just under 90% (89.84%).
The Chieftains played their first “home” game at Lee Valley two weekends ago after a number of games on the road, beating the Invicta Mustangs 8-3. Missing from the Chelmsford line-up were defenceman Charlie Phillips and forward Cameron Bartlett, both suspended by the EIHA pending an investigation into incidents during a game between Chelmsford and Peterborough three weeks ago. Without those two players, the Chieftains were still able to comfortably defeat the Mustangs, with goals coming through James Ayling (x3), Ross Brears (x2), Grant Bartlett, Courtney Grant and Ross Cowan.
Although the Chieftains have won four on the bounce and still sit top of the table, their winning margins recently haven’t been as high as they were during a lot of games earlier in the season. With in-form teams such as Slough and Solent breathing down their necks, they will have to maintain a high standard of play if they want to keep their spot at the top of the pile. This could be a tough game – Cardiff is a tough place to travel – but one the Chieftains will feel confident of winning, given their results so far this season.
Basingstoke Buffalo vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
These two sides meet for the second time in eight days, with the Phantoms winning at home by a score of 5-3 last Saturday. Phantoms goals in that game came from Conor Pollard (x2), Jake Samal, Ross Clarke and Bradley Wright; while the Buffalo goals were scored by Jack Peacock, Samuel Brooks and Sam Dollin. Confusingly, the netminder for the Phantoms that night was also called Jack Peacock, and he stopped 32 of 35 Buffalo shots, while Aaron Burton in the Basingstoke net stopped 32 of 36.
The Buffalo are 13th in the table as things stand, but are the team that have played the smallest amount of games this season so far, and have a lot of games in hand on teams ahead of them. They will hope for a strong home result here against a Phantoms side that still haven’t hit their stride this season.
Although the Phantoms have won four of their last five games, a lot of those wins have been by narrow margins, and a league position of eighth is definitely below where the Phantoms would expect to be. It looks like they will also have to do without starting netminder Dan Lane again on Sunday (if the investigation into the aforementioned Peterborough-Chelmsford game is still not completed by the weekend), although Jack Peacock did do a good job in the Peterborough net when called upon last Saturday and backstopped them to victory.
On paper, the Phantoms should be favourites to win this – but given how tight last weekend’s game was, the Buffalo will be confident of getting something out of this game, especially at home.
Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Haringey Huskies
Winless Swindon will feel they have a good chance of taking their first victory of the season on Sunday, as they play host to a Haringey side on a four game losing streak.
The Wildcats lie 14th in the table, courtesy of a solitary point picked up in an overtime defeat against Peterborough in their last game. That was almost a month ago, so it’s been a long time since the Wildcats hit the ice. In that 3-2 overtime defeat against the Phantoms, the Wildcats goals were scored by Jake Williams and Jack Goodchild, with netminder Kyle Landells stopping 30 of 33 shots that he faced. Swindon will look to continue that momentum in this game.
The Huskies lie in 12th place, level on points with the Invicta Mustangs ahead of them, but lost a direct clash with the Mustangs by a score of 8-3 in their penultimate game before Christmas. They also lost 3-2 in Basingstoke the day after that in what was a tough road trip for the North London side, and they now have a record of three wins, 10 regulation losses and one overtime loss at the midpoint of the season. They will hope to get their season back on track with a victory against the Wildcats in this game.
This is an intriguing clash towards the lower reaches of the table, and both sides will feel they can get something from the game.
Saturday January 5th 2019
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Cardiff Fire
19:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Raiders NIHL2
Sunday January 6th 2019
17:30 Raiders NIHL2 vs Solent Devils
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Invicta Mustangs
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Chelmsford Chieftains
18:15 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Haringey Huskies
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings