It’s the final weekend of the regular season in NIHL1 and what a season it has been. The introduction of the ex-EPL teams has certainly shaken things up and I suspect not everyone thinks it is for the better – but I also think nobody can say it’s been as uncompetitive as the doom and gloom merchants were predicting at the beginning of the season. Every one of the classic-NIHL clubs (even bottom dwelling Cardiff who have had a really tough season) has at a minimum taken one of the ex-EPL clubs to OT and all of the old NIHL1 clubs have beaten at least one of them. Unsurprisingly it is the ex-EPL clubs who are currently holding the top 4 spots – but even that may change as London could still take 4th place. But then last season I could have told you exactly which clubs would be in the top 4 of the league at the start of the season as well (and probably the same for the EPL last season)…
Most exciting of all is that the league title itself is still yet to be decided and it’s on an absolute knife-edge. Last weekend’s 3-2 regulation win for Peterborough means that they and Basingstoke have a tied series. Assuming neither lose their remaining games this weekend then it will come down to overall league goal difference. Peterborough currently have a +88 to Basingstoke’s +82 – but the Bison have one more game to play…
We’ll start with the title race. Both Peterborough and Basingstoke play on the Saturday with the Phantoms hosting Streatham and the Bison hosting Invicta. For the two titles contenders it is a race for goal difference – but obviously they have to get the 2 points as well! So far both clubs have all 3 regular season wins against their opponents on Saturday, Bison having a +9 goal difference against Invicta and Phantoms having a +11 goal difference against Streatham. But both of those teams are going to want to have a say in this final battle and both have strong netminders in Matty Colclough and Damien King. Neither team is going to go down without a battle – there’s too much pride from the players in their respective clubs to do that – so this could get very interesting. By the end of Saturday we’ll know what target has been set for Bison in their game against Cardiff on the Sunday.
For Peterborough, they can only do what they can on Saturday. But Sunday sees Bison travel to Cardiff and they will know at that point exactly what they need to do. The problem they may have is that Cardiff tend to be a lot stronger at home, as Swindon and Invicta found out when they travelled there recently and this will be Bisons’ 3rd game in 3 days. If they find themselves in need of a big score – Fire are not likely to be accommodating. It’s also the Fire’s final game of the season as they already know they have not qualified for the playoffs. This is a team that battles from start to finish in a game and who have a NM who is probably in the best form of his life. I expect Bison to win this one as they are probably just too strong a team with all lines solid and impressive. but will they win by enough – well that’s going to be the question…
Further down the league there is still a battle going on for 4th place between London and Bracknell. These two teams know they will be playing each other in the playoff quarter-finals but the right to decide which leg is played at home is still to be decided. Bees currently have a one-point lead going into this final weekend and thy also have the series win over London in the event the teams are tied. So London know they need at least 2 more points from their two games than Bracknell get from their one game.
London have a double-header against MK, hosting them on Saturday and then playing away on the Sunday. These two sides have not faced each other for quite a while – the last game between them was back in early November when Nahlik scored the winning penalty shot to take the win 3-2 for the Raiders. in the other game between the sides, Raiders rushed out to a 6-1 lead before 4 unanswered goals for Thunder brought it back to 6-5. The game finished with a 7-5 win for Raiders but it says to me that anything could happen between these two!
Bracknell will be hosting Swindon on the Sunday, with no game on the Saturday. While Swindon have had the better of the series against the Bees this season, Bees did win their last two home games against the Wildcats and if they can do the same again here and hope that Thunder can take at least one win against Raiders then they could still keep their 4th place.
Our final game sees Streatham host Invicta on the Sunday. Invicta put the nail in Streatham’s hopes of moving up to further in the league last weekend by taking a 4-2 home win and would love to do the same again to finish their season on a high. Assuming that the cancelled MK-Cardiff game last weekend is awarded 0-0 (since no time left to play it now), neither team can change their positions in the league – but the rivalry between these two will mean that even in a dead rubber, we can expect a fierce and competitive game.
Autumn Cup action
The Autumn Cup reaches its rescheduled finale on Friday as Swindon and Basingstoke meet for the first of two legs to decide who wins the first bit of silverware this season. Both teams are still in the running to claim two regular season trophies this season with the Wildcats also having reached the final of the National Cup and the Bison obviously still looking like title contenders (see above). This cup may be the least prestigious of the three but a trophy is a trophy and once you hit the final you REALLY want to win.
The form between these two is a funny thing – Wildcats took a clean sweep of 4 wins from 4 in the group stage of the National Cup while the Bison have taken 3 wins from 4 in the league. So overall Swindon have the edge on previous results, but Bison have the edge on the more recent results. Either way – I’d be very surprised if this isn’t a close game with both teams very much still in the chase for the Autumn Cup when the second leg comes around next week.
19:45 Basingstoke Bison vs Swindon Wildcats (Autumn Cup Final)
17:15 London Raiders vs Milton Keynes Thunder (NIHL1)
18:30 Basingstoke Bison vs Invicta Dynamos (NIHL1)
19:00 Peterborough Phantoms vs Streatham (NIHL1)
18:00 Bracknell Bees vs Swindon Wildcats (NIHL1)
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Basingstoke Bison (NIHL1)
18:30 Milton Keynes Thunder vs London Raiders (NIHL1)
18:45 Streatham IHC vs Invicta Dynamos (NIHL1)
482days will have live twitter updates from London on Saturday and Cardiff on Sunday. If you want to come and say ‘hi’ or would like a pin badge, just look for the bright yellow laptop! We’ll also have updates on scores and scorers from all the games across the weekend as we get the information. And of course we’ll make sure we get the final league tables out as soon as possible once everything is decided. Going to a game? We’d love to know what’s happening – tweet us @482days with your updates!
Looking for info on the NIHL2 games? You can find the NIHL2 South preview HERE where our correspondents Laurence Thorn and Don McDemott will take a look at all the action in that league this weekend.
Tables for active competitions this weekend
NIHL1 Britton League