Well the league is now officially in the bag. Congratulations to Basingstoke Bison on their league win and picking up the first piece of silverware in the South this season. They could be taking home another trophy tonight of course.
So Friday sees the Autumn Cup finally conclude (well at least it’s not officially spring yet!) and then the weekend arrives and it’s ALL about the playoffs. 8 teams enter the weekend and at the end of it the season will be over for at least 3 of them!
In a break from tradition – we’ll take a look at the Autumn Cup final first and then take a look at the 4 playoff match-ups.
Autumn Cup action
Someone is winning some silverware tonight! The second leg of the Autumn Cup final is upon us. Last week, the snow-delayed first leg at Basingstoke saw the Wildcats take a 3-1 lead against the Bison – giving them a 2-goal advantage for their home leg tonight.
So you probably have to think that Swindon are the favourites going into the game tonight. They have only lost at home twice this season and only once by more than a one-goal margin. Guess who that was against though!
Swindon have the overall series against Basingstoke taking 13 points to Bison’s 7 in their 9 meetings so far this season and with a goal advantage of 28 to 24. But the last two league match-ups saw Bison win both home and away by more than 3 goals (5-2 in Swindon and 4-0 in Basingstoke). So they know they have the capability to pull this off.
These are two teams who know each other well. Not only have they already met 9 times this season, but both had at least half of their squad return from last season as well. So there likely won’t be any surprises left to pull. It’s simply going to come down to who brings it tonight. Which set of players can put aside the upcoming playoffs and focus everything on tonight? Who’s going to provide that spark of individual brilliance: scoring that goal, making that great hit, pulling off that save – you know the one that has everybody talking the next day and sharing video clips of it on twitter? Bison have already had one such moment this season – when Aaron Connolly scored with 2 minutes to go at Peterborough. That goal is effectively the one that won them the title. It may not have been the best goal he ever scored, but it’s certainly got to be up there as one of the most important!
Or maybe rather than some individual brilliance – one team will just put in a total team performance, with everyone doing their job brilliantly and forming an unstoppable unit? Or maybe one team will just take their eye off the ball for a few minutes and the game will be lost in that time?
However it gets decided – I just hope it continues the recent trend of the big games that we’ve covered recently also being hugely entertaining hockey. We had it in the Fens in the big game between Phantoms and Bison, and again last weekend in Hull for the Northern title game. I’m hoping such things come in threes!
And so onto the playoffs! I have to admit that I love knock-out hockey. There are no permutations to worry about. It’s simple stuff – win over 2 legs and you’re through. Lose and you are out – season over!
Four series take place this weekend, with everyone hoping that the #minibeastfromtheeast doesn’t impact on the series, otherwise the EIHA will have some interesting decisions to make over the next few days
Note that for all of these series (including the Autumn Cup above, individual games can now end in a draw. We’ll only be going to overtime if the teams are tied after the end of regulation in the second leg.
Basingstoke Bison (1) vs Invicta Dynamos (8)
Taking on the league champs is never an easy thing to do however it’s the task faced by the Dynamos this weekend. Travelling to Hampshire for the first leg will be a big challenge and they will want to massively improve on their performance last weekend when they were put to the sword by the Bison’s clinical attacking play.
Our friends at Banners on the Wall just voted Aaron Connolly their Bison player of the year, he’ll be looking to build on an impressive season for the Bison, averaging a point a game so far this season. In terms of the history between the sides, Bison have won all four encounters this year. No side on the ice has come from 8th place to beat the top seeded team in the six previous playoffs (since this format came in), so the Mo’s will have it all to do.
Peterborough Phantoms (2) vs Milton Keynes Thunder (7)
Phantoms will be looking to go for the playoffs hunting for silverware after just coming up short for the league title by the narrowest of margins and face the MK Thunder who have a habit of causing shocks and surprises in the playoffs. Two years ago they won their first leg as the 7th ranked side against Invicta Dynamos and back in 2015 beat Streatham IHC 9-4 on aggregate as the 6th ranked side.
Phantoms have won three of the four games against MK this season, but will wary of them no doubt after the Thunder won in the league on penalty shots back in November in a 2-1 victory. Thunder have been at their best in games when they have kept it close in low scoring matches. Peterborough will want to widen the game up with early goals, but if the Thunder keep it low scoring, this could be a series to watch.
Swindon Wildcats (3) vs Streatham IHC (6)
Swindon host Streatham in what will be another interesting series after four league games all of which had their own character. Three of the four league games were settled by more than four goals with two wins for the Wildcats and one for Streatham as well as a tight 2-1 victory for the Wildcats at the Link Centre earlier on in the season.
There’s no doubt that the Cats have hit form, winning eight out of their last nine games and losing only to the league champions. But Streatham have an uncanny habit of turning it around in the playoffs, most noticeably in 2016 when after a losing run into the season against in-form Oxford, Streatham edged past the Stars in overtime. They’ll need a good defensive effort this weekend, while for Swindon, they’ll be looking for a take a solid performance on Friday night into the rest of the weekend.
London Raiders (4) vs Bracknell Bees (5)
The battle for 4th place ended with the Raiders becoming the only 2016/17 NIHL side to finish above a former EPIHL side, in the end by 3pts and with the Raiders move to Romford and crowd’s increasing they go into this game as the higher seeded favourites. But in their way, Bracknell Bees are going to be a stern challenge and this should once again be a superb playoff series as the 4th vs 5th series often is.
In three out of the last four playoff competitions, the 4th vs 5th tie has seen the lower ranked side has gone on to win the series (Streatham being awarded the game against London in 2014, although they were ahead at the time, Streatham beating Oxford in 2016 and London beating Oxford in 2017), so it’s by far the most unpredictable of the series in NIHL1 South. You feel that this could end up being an attacking series, with both sides having good forwards which means a goal fest could happen here.
19:45 Swindon Wildcats vs Basingstoke Bison (Autumn Cup Final)
17:30 Streatham IHC vs Swindon Wildcats (NIHL1 QF playoffs)
18:00 Bracknell Bees vs London Raiders (NIHL1 QF playoffs)
18:30 Basingstoke Bison vs Invicta Dynamos (NIHL1 QF playoffs)
19:00 Peterborough Phantoms vs Milton Keynes Thunder (NIHL1 QF playoffs)
17:15 Invicta Dynamos vs Basingstoke Bison (NIHL1 QF playoffs)
17:15 London Raiders vs Bracknell Bees (NIHL1 QF playoffs)
18:45 Milton Keynes Thunder vs Peterborough Phantoms (NIHL1 QF playoffs)
18:50 Swindon Wildcats vs Streatham IHC (NIHL1 QF playoffs)
482days will have live twitter updates from the Autumn Cup final in Swindon on Friday, Basingstoke on Saturday and whichever game looks the most interesting 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. 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.