The first weekend of 2018 and there’s plenty of hockey action around the South! This weekend we return for the most part to a league schedule with 7 games across the two days. We’ve also got some final mopping up games in the cup group stages: one on Saturday and a few midweek and we also have our first knock-out cup games in the Autumn Cup. Although we won’t be discussing here (see Michael Black’s excellent NIHL North round-up in Pro Hockey News), the Northern section of the National Cup also have their first QFs this weekend as Hull and Blackburn play a home-home double header in their bid to become our first semi-finalist).
Streatham travel to MK on Saturday for the final regular season meeting between the teams. So far Thunder have their nose in front in the series with 4 points to Streatham’s 3 points. The most recent meeting between the teams, just before the Christmas break, saw the Redhawks take a 4-0 win. Before the break, Streatham started turning their poor league form around with wins against Bracknell (twice) and Basingstoke to go with the one against MK in December. The form wasn’t perfect as they also had a losses to Basingstoke and London, but it was a marked improvement and saw them climb a place and they currently sit just one point behind MK.
Thunder have had more patchy form with their 6 wins in the season (2 in OT) fairly evenly spaced across the 18 games they have played so far. They currently have the most OT games in the league (6) and making sure they do enough to get that extra point even if they end with a loss has helped their league standing hugely. When both teams are on top form, they are fairly evenly matched with a strong mix of the skillful and hard-working players. I’d expect this to be another good game.
Saturday sees Bracknell and Swindon meet for the third time in 8 days after they had a cup double-header either side of New Year. Neither game was particularly meaningful as Swindon had already won the group and Bracknell already been eliminated, but it did finally see an end to the long losing streak the Bees have been on when they won their home leg 7-2. Swindon turned the tables in their home game and took a 5-3 win. The league table sees these two teams 8 and 10 points off the top two at the moment, but both have games in hand and will not have given up on the league title yet. If either can put together a strong run and take some points from the top two, they could play themselves back into contention and they will both be seeing this as a game to start that off.
Also on Saturday sees London travel to Cardiff. Raiders had a great December, with four wins in their four games which saw them climb to 5th in the league and they are currently just 2 points behind the Bees in fourth, with a game in hand. Cardiff, still hunting for that elusive first win, have had a month off, not having played since the second weekend in December. The sides have played each other twice so far with London 11-4 and 6-1 wins. It’s another tough game for the Fire but London will still need to stay sharp if they want to be sure of 2 points here.
On Sunday Invicta start their 2018 with a home game against Streatham. These two old rivals have already met four times in the cup, with Streatham taking all the points. But these games are rarely easy to predict and these two teams have a habit of ripping up the form book when they play each other!
After a busy holiday season, Peterborough had a rare Saturday off, but are back in action on Sunday when they travel to London. Raiders were the team who finally broke the Phantoms long winning streak when they stunned them in Peterborough with a 6-3 win in the only meeting between the two sides so far. The sides were to have played twice more before Christmas had to cancel two games on successive weekends due to first weather and then a plant failure in Lee Valley. So the Phantoms have had to wait a longer time than expected for this rematch. Since then off course, Euan King has moved back to Peterborough and Michael Gray has stepped up from injury cover to permanent No. 1 in London. The Raiders will want to show it wasn’t just about King standing on his head that won that game and this one could be a doozy. For anyone attending – don’t forget that this is also the rescheduled charity game for the National Autistic Society – a great cause, so make sure you take some spare change to throw in the buckets as well. Plus of course a teddy bear to throw onto the ice for London’s first goal!
League leaders Basingstoke also have just one league game this weekend when they travel to Bracknell. It will be the 6th meeting between these two old rivals with Bison having taken 6 points to the Bees’ 3 in their cup games as well as a 6-4 win in the league just before Christmas. With both teams having failed to qualify for the QFs of the National Cup, there will be more focus on the league for them now (although Bison are of course also through to the Autumn Cup SF). Games between these two are often physical and feisty affairs – except more of the same here.
Our final league game of the weekend sees Swindon travel to MK. The sides have met just once so far, early in the season when the game had to go all the way to penalty shots to be decided after Thunder took the lead 3 times only to see Swindon equalise 3 times, . In fact this was our first ever OT period in NIHL South and Swindon finally took the extra point in this 4-3 game when Chris Jones was the only one to score in the shootout.
National Cup action
We see the final 2 games in Group D of the cup this week as Telford travel to Basingstoke on Saturday and host Bracknell next Thursday. Unfortunately both games are now dead rubbers with the positions of all four teams unchangeable. Telford are already through to the QFs where they will face off against Streatham (dates yet to be confirmed).
In the Northern half of the draw, Hull and Bracknell will also play their quarter-final games this weekend. More information on this game in Michael Black’s NIHL North Preview here.
Autumn Cup action
The Autumn Cup has hit the semi-final stage and the first of these will be on Thursday when Swindon host Peterborough in the first leg (second leg next Thursday). These two teams have already played all four of their league games against each other this season with the Phantoms winning that series with 2 regulation wins, an OT win and an OT loss giving them 7 points to Wildcats’ 3. But that OT home win for Swindon was the last result between the teams when Steven Whitfield scored halfway through the 3-on-3 to take the extra point. So Wildcats know they can win.
17:30 Streatham IHC vs Milton Keynes Thunder (NIHL1)
18:15 Swindon Wildcats vs Bracknell Bees (NIHL1)
18:30 Cardiff Fire vs London Raiders (NIHL1)
18:30 Basingstoke Bison vs Telford Tigers (National Cup Group Stage)
17:15 Invicta Dynamos vs Streatham IHC (NIHL1)
17:30 London Raiders vs Peterborough Phantoms (NIHL1)
18:00 Bracknell Bees vs Basingstoke Bison (NIHL1)
18:30 Milton Keynes Thunder vs Swindon Wildcats (NIHL1)
19:30 Telford Tigers vs Bracknell Bees (National Cup Group Stage)
19:45 Swindon Wildcats vs Peterborough Phantoms (Autumn Cup SF)
482days will have live twitter updates from Streatham vs Milton Keynes on Saturday (on Sunday we’ll be at the top of the NIHL2 table clash between Oxford and Bracknell). 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
NIHL1 National Cup Group D