We’ve got 8 games to look at this weekend, an Autumn Cup semi-final this evening and then 7 league games across the weekend.
London Raiders play their final game at Lee Valley Ice Rink on Saturday before transferring to their shiny new home in Romford. They host Basingstoke and will be looking to continue their recent run of good form that saw them take 4 points last weekend and rise to 4th in the table by a point and with a game in hand over 5th place Bracknell. It’s the third meeting between the teams this season, with Bison having taken 2 very comfortable wins on their own home ice (7-1 and 6-0). So it seems that so far, Basingstoke very much have their measure. Having said that, it was more than 2 months ago and London seem to have acclimatised well recently to the standard of hockey it now takes to succeed in this league.
Basingstoke are still very much in the hunt for a league title, although they fell 2 points behind Peterborough on Sunday with a loss to Swindon, despite heavily outshooting the Wildcats. They do still have a game in hand on the Phantoms, but ask any fan and they’d rather have the points in the bag! It’s the Bison’s only game this weekend, and they will want to make sure of the 2 points if they want to keep the pressure on Peterborough.
The league leaders Peterborough have a double header against Cardiff and assuming they win both games, which in all fairness to Cardiff is probably quite likely, this should see them extend their lead to at least 4 points. For Phantoms it’s now league or bust as they are out of both cup competitions and this is their only chance for regular-season silverware (although there are still potentially 2 playoff trophies still up for grabs of course). Peterborough still have 2 more league games against their top challenger Basingstoke to come and will want to build as much scoreboard pressure as possible before then.
For Cardiff, this is a tough weekend. I have honestly never known a team with as much bad luck with injuries as the Fire have had this season. It was always going to be a big ask for them to step up from the 4th tier to the 2nd, but when you add in the loss for the entire season of 4 of their bigger signings and that about half of the rest of the team are also playing injured – you have to feel for them. Had they been able to play the team they signed consistently through the season, I have no doubt they would have picked up some points – and maybe even been able to mount a challenge for a playoff spot.
We have another home-home double header as well as Swindon and Milton Keynes meet in the ‘battle of the roundabout towns’ (thanks David Strover for that little tag line!). The two sides first met early in the season in the first game in the league that went to OT and also the first time that any of the classic NIHL1 sides took any points from games against the ex-EPL big 4. Of course, Swindon did come back with a 5-0 victory earlier this month and have been putting together a strong run of form themselves: beating Peterborough in the Autumn Cup semi-final and taking apart London in the cup quarter-finals. In the league they are narrowing the gap, but still trail Bison by 5 points and Phantoms by 7 points and will know that any lost points now could see them out of the race altogether.
MK have had a tough run recently, with the exception of the games against Cardiff, they haven’t had a win since November. But they are the masters at getting themselves at least a point in games by getting to OT and that’s been helping to keep them in 6th place. Just last weekend they pushed Bees all the way, they just need now to start turning those one-point games into two points and getting a few more wins in OT.
On Sunday, Invicta host London. Of course, news came out this week that the Mos had released Fowler due to his failure to attend training and commitment to the team. It was a big call to make by the club and coach Kevin Parrish, but sometimes having a disruptive element in the team is simply not worth it – regardless of how talented he is as a player. With some fans worrying that this signalled the club gearing down to life in NIHL2, the single tweet of ‘NIHL2 is not an option’ from Parrish showed that the fighting spirit is still there in Kent. It’s been a tough season for the Dynamos – a club who are used to challenging for the league title and whose fans are certainly not used to seeing them lose so often. But it’s good to see that they are still in bullish mood and wanting to push themselves at this level. The game against London will be another tough one with the Raiders in strong form at the moment; but with no Invicta game on Saturday while London undoubtedly have a challenging fixture to play, if the Mos can keep it tight in the first two periods they could manage a surprise here.
Our final league game of the weekend sees Streatham and Bracknell play at the hive. Bracknell finally got their first league win since early November on Sunday in an OT win against MK. That loss of league form has seen them drop from the heights of second in the league to scrapping to get the top half in fifth. Streatham in comparison, struggled in the league to start with but have since started picked up points with more regularity as they became more accustomed to the pace of the league. This is their final meeting in the league this season with all games being regulation home wins so far. Bracknell will be hoping to continue that trend, while Streatham will be looking to become the first classic NIHL1 team to win a series against one of the ex-EPL sides (which a point would be enough to do).
Autumn Cup Action
Tonight sees the first leg of the Autumn Cup semi-final between Basingstoke and Hull. The winners will go on to meet Swindon in the final. Both teams currently sit in second place in their respective leagues and while the chance of silverware and a cup final is never to be sneered at, will still have one eye on their upcoming league games. The teams haven’t met yet this season and with the teams so changed from last season, previous form probably isn’t worth a lot either so this could be a very interesting series. The second leg will be in two weeks, so unless this game is a blowout we’ll have to wait awhile to discover who our second finalist will be.
19:45 Basingstoke Bison vs Hull Pirates (Autumn Cup SF)
17:30 London Raiders vs Basingstoke Bison (NIHL1)
18:15 Swindon Wildcats vs Milton Keynes Thunder (NIHL1)
19:00 Peterborough Phantoms vs Cardiff Fire (NIHL1)
17:15 Invicta Dynamos vs London Raiders (NIHL1)
18:00 Bracknell Bees vs Streatham IHC (NIHL1)
18:00 Cardiff Fire vs Peterborough Phantoms (NIHL1)
18:30 Milton Keynes Thunder vs Swindon Wildcats (NIHL1)
There will be only very minimal twitter from 482days this weekend as we’re going away. We’ll make sure we get the final scores and league tables out on Sunday evening but won’t be attending any games or doing our usual #gamedaylive roundup either. Sorry. We’re back to it next weekend!
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