A busy weekend lies ahead in NIHL South 2, with a crunch game between third placed Solent and fourth placed Oxford on Saturday.
Oxford are also in action on Sunday as they face Haringey; while leaders Slough play road games on both Saturday and Sunday, against the league’s bottom two sides.
Oxford City Stars vs Solent Devils
The first game to face off on Saturday is also the most important of the weekend, as two teams looking to close the gap to leaders Slough square off in Oxford.
The Stars have played one game less than the Devils and sit two points behind, having won 19 and lost just two games this season. They are also on a 10 game winning streak, stretching back to the 1st of December where they lost to… tonight’s opponents Solent. That game at Gosport was a close one, with the Devils prevailing 4-2 thanks to a brace from Daniel Lackey and further goals from Richard Facey and Alex Murray. The Oxford goals on the night came from Josh Florey and now-player coach Lee Richardson. Oxford didn’t play last weekend, so will come into this game fresh and ready for action.
Solent now find themselves level on points with second placed Chelmsford and two points behind leaders Slough, having played one game less than both of the sides in front of them. However with head-to-head results being the first tie breaker in the case that two teams finish level on points, and Slough having beaten Solent in both of their meetings this season, the Devils must finish at least one point clear of Slough in order to take the league title. Thus, the Devils must keep winning out, while hoping that the Jets drop a point somewhere.
Last weekend the Devils kept their title charge on track with a 5-1 road win at Alexandra Palace against Haringey. It wasn’t pretty, but Solent got the job done thanks to goals from Alex Trendall, Drew Campbell, Richard Facey, Ben Lock and Alex Murray. This extended their current winning streak to 17 games, stretching back to the aforementioned double loss against Slough.
This game is very tricky to call, with two high-quality teams on long winning runs facing off. It should be a great game and any result is possible.
Haringey Huskies vs Invicta Mustangs
Two more neighbours in the league table square off on Saturday, as 11th placed Haringey welcome 12th placed Invicta to Ally Pally.
The Huskies went down 5-1 at home to Solent last weekend, which wasn’t too bad a result considering the league positions of the two teams. Sam Park scored the sole Huskies goal, and was thus able to celebrate his first goal of the season. Prior to the Solent game, the Huskies had won two straight games, with wins against the NIHL2 Raiders and Bristol. They currently sit two points above today’s opponents Invicta, and have a game in hand too.
The Mustangs took an impressive 7-2 home victory over the Basingstoke Buffalo last weekend. The Buffalo brought a somewhat small roster to Kent, but nonetheless the Mustangs showed great ruthlessness in dispatching their opponents, who sit directly below them in the table. Mustangs goals on the night came from Kevin Lake (x2), Joseph Bliss, Jarvis Mewett, Harry Blake, Bradley Gutridge and Regan O’Neil.
Earlier this season, the Mustangs beat Haringey 8-3 at home. Haringey’s form has been on an upturn since then, so a similar scoreline is unlikely. Either side could win this game, and it should be a good one.
Lee Valley Lions vs Slough Jets
It’s last against first on Saturday at the Den as the Lions welcome the Jets to East London.
The Lions took a roster of 10 skaters and two netminders to Bracknell last weekend and went down 10-1. In both the first and third periods, the Lions conceded only one goal each; but it all went wrong in the middle period as they conceded eight. Gus Zimmerman scored the lone Lions goal on the night, as he bagged his eighth of the season in the third period. Earlier this season, the Lions visited Slough and lost 18-4 at the Hangar; they have added a lot of players to their roster since that point, so will hope to keep the scoreline a bit closer here.
But beating the Jets will be a very tall order indeed; their winning streak is now up to 21 games in a row, stretching back to September, and they also welcome player-coach Lukas Smital back to the lineup for this game after a two match ban. Not that it seems to have affected their on-ice form, with the Jets winning all eight games that Smital was out, scoring a total of 50 goals and conceding just 15 in that time, with two shutouts.
This is the first of two away games for the Jets, as they also visit 14th placed Swindon on Sunday. They will fully expect to take two big wins out of these games.
Bracknell Hornets vs Basingstoke Buffalo
In a game originally scheduled to take place on the 19th of January, the eighth placed Hornets welcome a Buffalo side five places below them in the table to the Hive.
The Hornets haven’t had a great time of it lately, losing seven of their last nine games; and the two wins in that time came against the league’s bottom two sides in Swindon and Lee Valley. Last weekend, Lee Valley brought a roster of just 10 skaters to Bracknell, yet the Hornets were only able to score one goal in the first period, before turning on the style in the second and eventually winning the game 10-1. Danny Hughes and Ben Ealey-Newman both celebrated hat-tricks in that game, while Josh Ealey-Newman, Connor Hutchison, Luke Jackson and Adam Bicknell grabbed a goal apiece. They will hope to take another win this weekend as they host another side from the league’s bottom three.
The Buffalo took a short bench to Invicta last weekend, with their under 18 players unavailable, and went down 7-2 to the Mustangs. Warren Jones and Mark Austen got the goals for the Buffalo, with netminder Aaron Burton once again in impressive form as he stopped 62 of the 67 shots he faced. The Buffalo did gain a point in the table during the week though, as their game against Cardiff on the 17th of November (that was abandoned due to ice issues) will not be re-played, with each team getting one point.
Earlier this season, the Hornets won 6-2 in Basingstoke. A similar result here would not be too much of a surprise.
NIHL2 Raiders vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
Two sides level on points in the tightly-packed mid-table region square off at the Sapphire on Sunday, as the Raiders in sixth host the Phantoms just one place behind them.
The Raiders got back to winning ways last weekend with an 8-2 win over Swindon, having lost their previous three games in a row. Tommy Huggett grabbed a hat-trick for the Raiders while Ewan Hill scored a brace and further goals came from Brandon Webster, George Gell and Daniel Hitchings. It was a much-needed return to form for the Romford side, with Guildford now four points ahead – albeit having played one game more.
The Phantoms also won last weekend, taking a huge 6-4 road victory in Cardiff despite only bringing 13 skaters to Wales. Netminder Dan Lane was one of the heroes on the night, stopping 55 of 59 shots he faced, while Clint Herring (x2), Jack Sansby, Nick Alley, Kenny Bavin and Conor Pollard chipped in with the goals. That result means the Phantoms remain level on points with Sunday’s opponents Romford, but have played two games more. In fact the Phantoms have played 25 games already this season, with just three matches left for them to finish as high up the table as possible.
Earlier this season, the Raiders went to Peterborough and won 5-2. The score this time around is difficult to predict – this should be a great game.
Guildford Phoenix vs Cardiff Fire
In an interesting tie at the Spectrum, the Phoenix look to keep a strong grasp on fifth place in the table while the Fire look to start moving up the table from their current ninth place.
The Phoenix are having a great season, and have won six of their last seven games – with the only loss in that time coming against title-chasing Oxford. They now look the favourites to finish in fifth place, in the battle to be the “best of the rest” behind the top four. In their last two games they have scored 14 goals and conceded just three, with 7-2 and 7-1 wins over Peterborough and Swindon respectively. Guildford also travelled to Cardiff back in January and took a big 4-1 road win.
The Fire have had an up-and-down season, and have lost five of their last six games including the aforementioned 4-1 home loss to Guildford. Their only win since mid-January was an ill-tempered 4-3 win away at Romford; but defeats to Bristol, Solent and Peterborough have followed on from that. Last Saturday’s 6-4 home defeat to Peterborough was a disappointing one, as the Fire put 59 shots on the Phantoms net and only faced 24 themselves, but couldn’t crack the code of Peterborough netminder Dan Lane and went down to defeat.
The Phoenix have to be favourites in this one, although the Fire have taken some big road wins already this season so can’t be counted out.
Oxford City Stars vs Haringey Huskies
Both the Stars and the Huskies play their second game of the weekend on Sunday, with Oxford also playing their second home game in as many days.
These two sides met at Alexandra Palace back in October, with the Stars winning by a narrow margin of 4-1. Oxford goals at that time came from Josh Oliver, Tom Davis, Michal Oravec and Dominic Hopkins; while the lone Huskies goal came from Sebastian Downing. Haringey netminder David Wride also had an extremely busy day, facing 53 shots and making a total of 49 saves.
The Huskies have proven adept at running the big teams close on some occasions this season; losing 1-4 to Oxford, 0-3 to Slough and 1-5 to Solent for instance. But they are yet to beat any of the top four teams this season, and it will be extremely tough for them to do so here – Oxford are chasing the league title so will be fully motivated to take a big win. Expect a Stars victory here.
Basingstoke Buffalo vs Bristol Pitbulls
The Buffalo also play their second game of the weekend here, as they welcome the Bristol Pitbulls to Planet Ice Basingstoke.
These two teams last met back in November at the Pitbulls’ adopted home rink in Oxford, with the Buffalo taking an impressive 7-5 road win. Basingstoke goals came from Liam Coleman (x3), Oscar Evans, Samuel Brooks, Cameron Buckle and Jason Newman; while for Bristol, goals from Olly Shone (x2), Jamie Newton, Grant Richardson and Steve Osman weren’t enough for victory.
The Pitbulls haven’t really got going this season, never winning more than two games in a row and currently sitting 10th, level on points with Cardiff ahead. Their last game was a couple of weekends ago, as they went down to Haringey by the odd goal in nine. Olly Shone grabbed a hat-trick and Giacomo Raffaelli scored the other, but Huskies netminder David Wride stopped 47 of 51 shots to backstop Haringey to a road victory.
This is a game between two sides that are having rollercoaster seasons. The result is hard to predict, but it should be an interesting game.
Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Slough Jets
It’s Slough’s second road game of the weekend, as the leaders travel to 14th placed Swindon.
The Wildcats have won four of their last nine, but have yet to find any consistency as they look to catch and pass Basingstoke ahead of them in the table. And with just two games left for the Wildcats (including this one) and a two point gap, that seems like a tricky task. They have at least put daylight between themselves and bottom club Lee Valley behind, with a seven point cushion over the Lions now.
The Wildcats lost two games on the road last weekend, going down 1-7 in Guildford and 2-8 in Romford. Eliot Randall scored a goal in each game, while Harry Llewellyn also scored against Romford. Goaltenders Liam Maguire (50 saves in Guildford) and Kyle Landells (41 saves in Romford) were also kept very busy.
The Jets will be playing their fifth consecutive road game here; after this, they will only have three games left this season including a mouth-watering home game against reigning champions Oxford on the 23rd of March. The title battle could go right down to the wire, so the Jets need to make sure they keep their concentration levels high and keep winning. With player-coach Lukas Smital back from his ban, this should be a given. Expect the Jets to take a big road win here.
17:15 Oxford City Stars vs Solent Devils
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Invicta Mustangs
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Slough Jets
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:15 NIHL2 Raiders vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Cardiff Fire
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs Haringey Huskies
18:15 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Bristol Pitbulls
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Slough Jets
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings
Note: Basingstoke’s home game vs Cardiff has been awarded as a 0-0 draw due to ice issues.