Seven games seems like a relatively quiet weekend these days for the NIHL1 South, but with no cup games involving the NIHL1 North teams, we still have 6 teams with a double-header and only one team (MK) has the weekend off.
It’s certainly a league-heavy weekend though with 5 games in the NIHL1 Britton league and just one each in the two cup competitions.
The weekend’s action starts with Bracknell visiting Invicta as both look to shake off cup losses last weekend. It’s a repeat of the action-packed game from just 2 weeks ago which saw went the full distance before the Bees grabbed the extra point during the penalty shootout and which also saw Bees import Frankie Bakrlik pick up a 6 game suspension for his dangerous hit to the head of Mason Webster. Mos will also likely be down an import for this game after parting ways with Adam Rehak during the week and with no news yet of a replacement. Last weekend, Bees suffered a double cup loss against Telford – and while that didn’t put them out of contention for the quarter-final round, it certainly has made the task of qualifying much harder. Invicta, themselves out of the cup already also suffered a further defeat in that competition against old rivals Streatham and the added loss of Rehak will have been a further blow. Despite their relative positions in the league though, Invicta have certainly been performing well so far against the Bees. Despite losing twice, they have still picked up a point in each game by keeping the game tied at the end of regulation and in fact it’s been the Bees who have had to find the equaliser to get themselves to OT. This is actually quite an intriguing match-up!
On Sunday, Bracknell will then host current league leaders Peterborough in a top of the table clash. If Bees win on Saturday then they will take the top spot in the league table overnight at least and go into the game with the Phantoms chasing to retake the league. Either way, it is likely that the winners of this game will top the league table at the end of the weekend. Phantoms have twice been stung at home now by old-NIHL1 sides, despite heavily outshooting both and coach Slava Koulikov may well have done some work on shooting efficiency in training this week after last weekend’s haul of 102 shots netted them just 2 goals! They will of course have the option of playing Euan King in nets themselves this time though after his move from London during the week. This could be a titanic battle though – with the league top spot the prize and with both teams having a lot to prove.
Swindon have a league double-header this weekend and they will see this as a great chance to make up some of the distance between themselves and the top 3 teams. Currently languishing in 5th place and 6 points adrift of 3rd placed Basingstoke, coach Aaron Nell will see 4 points as an absolute necessity if they want to be seen as legitimate challengers this season. Their opponents on Saturday are London who are currently in great form having won all three of their games in the last 2 weeks and are sitting just 2 points behind Swindon in 6th place. London would need a huge win (by 6 or more goals) in this game to be able to overtake Swindon in the league after this game, but they will certainly see this as an opportunity to further their ambitions of being the top old-NIHL1 club come the end of the season. Obviously the loss of first-choice netminder, arguably their hero of last weekend’s win against Peterborough (with 69/70 shots saved) will be a big blow – but Michael Gray has also been in great form when he came in as injury cover earlier this season.
Swindon’s opponents on Sunday will be the improving Cardiff Fire in an M4 derby game. On paper this certainly looks like an easier game for the Wildcats with Cardiff yet to pick up a point in the league – but Cardiff have been improving week on week and at some point I am sure those points are going to start being won. It’s certainly been a tough season so far for the Fire, but that was always going to be the case for the Welsh side who have effectively jumped up two tiers in the league ladder this season and who have gained a huge amount of respect throughout the UK hockey scene so far as a result. It’s absolutely a learning season for Mark Cuddihy’s team, most of whom have stepped up from last season’s NIHL2 side; but the never say die attitude and obvious team unity has certainly contributed to their improved results since the start of the season. Swindon will certainly be the favourites for the win here, but this is also a potential banana skin for them if they take the Fire too lightly.
Our final league game this weekend sees London travel to Basingstoke. The Bison’s 100% record in the league so far is in stark contrast to their cup record where they have just 3 wins from 8 games. But this is a league game – and so far Bison’s form has been impeccable with all nine of their games so far won in regulation. Bison have two players averaging an impressive 3 points per game in the league: import Tomas Karpov (15+16 from 9 games) and Ivan Antanov (7+14 from 7 games) and captain Aaron Connolly also contributing well (8_8 from 9 games). Just as importantly, they have a very solid defence set-up led by the consistent Dean Skinns between the pipes who are averaging just 2 goals against them in league play. This will be a tough nut to crack for London! For the Raiders, import forward Marek Nahlik has the distinction of being the only player from an old-NIHL1 team to push his way into the top 10 scorers in the league though (8+11 from 8 games) and is having a great season so far. Basingstoke will certainly go into this as favourites – but London seem to relish being underdogs and will scrap hard to continue their good form so far.
National Cup action
Just the one game in the national cup this weekend and it’s a bit of a dead rubber with the positions in cup group C already having been decided after only three-quarters of the game having been played. Streatham have been somewhat the reverse of Basingstoke in terms of form – with 6 wins from 6 games in the cup seeing them winning their group with 2 games to spare but managing just 3 wins and an OT loss from 12 games in the league so far. For Invicta, the cup challenge is effectively over – but they are going to want to avoid the indignity of zero points.
Autumn Cup action
This is somewhat surprisingly the first competitive meeting between Peterborough and Basingstoke so far this season. The two sides did meet for a double-headed challenge series in the first weekend in September but have yet to meet in any meaningful games. Despite both having already qualified for the Autumn Cup semi-finals as a result of both beating Sheffield twice, this game is not likely to be a damp squib! The kudos of winning the group is still very much up for grabs, but these are also the two teams I see as most likely to take the top two league spots by the end of the season and the psychological upperhand from these cup games may be important when they finally meet in the league over the New Year period.
18:00 Invicta Dynamos vs Bracknell Bees (NIHL1)
18:15 Swindon Wildcats vs London Raiders (NIHL1)
19:00 Peterborough Phantoms vs Basingstoke Bison (Autumn Cup Group 1)
17:30 Basingstoke Bison vs London Raiders (NIHL1)
18:00 Bracknell Bees vs Peterborough Phantoms (NIHL1)
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Swindon Wildcats (NIHL1)
18:45 Streatham IHC vs Invicta Dynamos (National Cup Group C)
482days will have live twitter from Cardiff on Sunday (undecided about saturday so far). 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.
Tables for active competitions this weekend
NIHL1 Britton League
NIHL National Cup Group C
NIHL1 Autumn Cup Group 1