NIHL2 Playoff Preview: Quarter Finals 14/15 April

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! After a regular season that began on the 10th of September and ended seven months later on the 8th of April, it’s time for the NIHL South 2 playoffs to kick off this weekend with the four quarter-final ties. The winners of these four ties will go on to play at the Finals Weekend in Bracknell next weekend.

League champions Oxford will face Bristol over two legs, with both ties being played at Oxford. Saturday’s game will be Bristol’s home game at their adopted rink, while the Stars’ home game will take place on Sunday. Runners-up Solent will have a tough task in their quarter-final series as they take on an in-form Slough Jets side. This will be played over a single leg in Gosport due to ice time issues for Slough.

Bracknell and Guildford will face off in the third quarter-final, however this will also only take place over one leg; Guildford did not have home ice available on either Saturday or Sunday, so their home leg has been awarded 0-0. In the fourth and final quarter-final, Chelmsford and Peterborough will do battle. Chelmsford also had issues sourcing home ice for this weekend, but managed to resolve this by arranging to host their home leg in Romford.

Oxford City Stars (1) vs Bristol Pitbulls (8)

First leg @ Oxford on 14th April (Pitbulls home game)
Second leg @ Oxford on 15th April (Stars home game)

It’s a showdown in Oxford this weekend as the playoffs get underway, with the Stars and Pitbulls, who both play out of the Oxford Ice Arena, meeting in the quarterfinals.

Oxford (23 wins/3 regulation losses, 46 points) finished the regular season with the best record in the league, holding off a valiant challenge from Solent. The Stars played the Sutton Sting in the South 2 Championship Game last weekend, and secured a 3-1 victory as Milan Ronai made 40 saves. Oxford City have lost just three times this season, twice to Bracknell and once to Solent. That means that against clubs in places 4 to 14, they are undefeated; and quarterfinals opponents Bristol finished 8th, so the Stars should feel very confident.

Their defence has been rock solid this season, led by Dom Hopkins and Alex Staples, who both made the first line in the 482days NIHL2 End of Season Awards. Oxford allowed just 55 goals this season, with only Solent (58) coming close to matching their brilliance. Their potency on offence was even better, as they scored 223 goals, which was 37 more than their closest rivals, Chelmsford. The stats don’t lie. The Stars have lived up to their club nickname this season.

Bristol (10 wins/1 OT loss/14 regulation losses/1 game awarded 0-0, 22 points) sneaked into the playoffs by a mere skate edge, going through by virtue of holding the tiebreak over Cardiff. It all came down to the final weekend, as the Pitbulls had games against Bracknell and Peterborough remaining. The game against the Phantoms, for which they unable to raise a team after Peterborough couldn’t find ice soon enough, was awarded 0-0 and as such they picked up a point from that. Then Bristol played a crucial game against Bracknell and emerged with a stunning 7-4 victory that ensured them the final playoff place, despite Cardiff having a four-point weekend.

In addition to that win over Bracknell, the Pitbulls have two other wins this season over playoff teams: a last-gasp victory against Slough and a 3-1 victory over Chelmsford. Although Slough are arguably on a level with Bristol, the wins over the Hornets and Chieftains prove that Bristol are able to compete with the heavyweights if they give it everything they’ve got.

Results this season:
17-Sep: Stars 7 (Whillock x2, Edwards x2, Kinkor, Staples, Elliott) – Pitbulls 2 (Newton, Smith)
23-Dec: Pitbulls 5 (O. Shone x2, Coppock, M. Hargreaves, Thornhill) – Stars 7 (Oliver x3, Whillock, Kinkor, Edwards, Hedges)

There’s no real home ice advantage in either game, as Bristol play their home games at Oxford, and their supporters will surely travel en masse to both games. Looking at their previous match-ups, this contest may be more exciting than a 1st against 8th playoff might normally be. Oxford have been dominant this season, but Bristol ran them so close in the second meeting, which will give the Pitbulls confidence. However, although Bristol may give the Stars a fight, it’s hard to imagine any result other than an Oxford victory on aggregate.

Don’s Prediction: Oxford 11-4 Bristol (agg. score)
Laurence’s Prediction: Oxford 15-5 Bristol (agg. score)

Solent Devils (2) vs Slough Jets (7)

One leg only @ Solent on 15th April

Solent and Slough will play a winner-takes all game on Sunday in Gosport after Slough’s home game was declared 0-0 due to ice being unavailable.

Solent (22 wins/1 OT loss/3 regulation losses, 45 points) will consider themselves favourites in this game, and they can point to their record to show why. They finished second in the league, losing out to Oxford City by a solitary point. Solent’s losses were few and far between, and they were sprinkled throughout the season, so they can say with pride that they never had a serious loss of form for a period of time, unlike some other high-ranked clubs like Peterborough and Bracknell.

Solent’s brilliant season is down to the contributions of many of their players, but Richard Facey was a real standout. He scored over 40 goals and notched over 40 assists during the season, and scooped up the 482days Player of the Year Award. Solent’s defence was phenomenal this season, and part of that was thanks to netminder Christian Cole and his save percentage of 92%. This is a team loaded with talent and they will want to win it all in the playoffs.

Slough (12 wins/14 regulation losses, 24 points) are no push-overs, though. Although they finished five places and 21 points behind Solent in the table, the Jets are a strong team and they’ve picked up a few upset wins this season. They defeated Chelmsford, Peterborough and Bracknell, and who is to say that Solent won’t be their fourth big scalp of the season? The one bit of bad news for Slough, though, is that all those upsets came at home, and their home game in the playoffs has been wiped off the record, so they have to do this upset on the road. Player-coach Lukas Smital will need to draw on all his experience to get this Jets team ready for a tough match.

A word on the Jets 0-0 home “result” is probably necessary. Slough have been playing out of a temporary arena all season while waiting for their old home to be renovated. The replacement rink closed after the regular season, and unfortunately the renovated ice rink has not yet been okayed for use. The situation was beyond the Jets’ control, and so the game has been officially announced as 0-0.

Results this season:
14-Oct: Jets 2 (Smital, Tyrrell) – Devils 6 (Rudkin x2, Pitts, Trendall, Campbell, Facey)
06-Jan: Devils 14 (Facey x3, Campbell x3, Pitts, A. Cole, Rudkin, Crockford, McCormick, Goddard, A. Murray, Hocquigny) – Jets 3 (Lindgren x2, Dreelan)

So how does this one pan out? Really, it will probably be one of two things. Solent will win big, or Slough will secure a very narrow upset. But looking at that 11-goal loss last time the Jets travelled to face Solent, and remembering Richard Facey’s goal-scoring form and Slough’s slightly suspect away from, it’s probably going to be Solent who progress into the semi-finals.

Don’s Prediction: Solent 10-5 Slough
Laurence’s Prediction: Solent 8-5 Slough

Bracknell Hornets (3) vs Guildford Phoenix (6)

One leg only @ Bracknell on 14th April

A fascinating playoff tie awaits as Bracknell, who finished in third place but struggled for form late in the season, face surprise package Guildford – the Phoenix finished sixth in their very first season in the league after a very impressive campaign.

Unfortunately due to ice time issues at Guildford, this tie will also be played over one leg only, with the game taking place at the Hive on Saturday.

Bracknell (21 wins/1 OT loss/4 regulation losses, 43 points) looked on course to challenge Oxford and Solent for the top two spots in the league, at one point having multiple games in hand on both of them. But four losses in the last seven games of the campaign – having won 18 of their first 19 games(!) – derailed the Hornets’ title charge and in the end the Berkshire side finished third, two points behind Solent and three behind champions Oxford.

The Hornets will hope to get their momentum back in this playoff tie, and will try to use home ice to their advantage against the Phoenix. Bracknell only lost one game all season, and that was on the final weekend of the campaign against Bristol as the Pitbulls successfully qualified themselves for the playoffs. Danny Hughes’ side will hope to be able to write this off as a blip and return to their strengths against Guildford, and will need the likes of Steve Fisher and Josh Ealey-Newman to be firing if they want to knock off a strong Guildford side.

Guildford (15 wins/1 OT loss/10 regulation losses, 31 points) entered the season as an unknown package, with an average age of just 21 in the team. But the newcomers had a fantastic campaign, with a playoff spot never looking in doubt. They ended the campaign in a strong sixth place, led by impressive player-coach Andy Hemmings who was voted Coach of the Year by his peers.

Also impressing for the Phoenix were young forwards Josh Abbott and Bailey Wootton, who both bagged 21 goals and helped their side to some big wins. However one thing Guildford could not do was win a game against the top five sides in the league; 10 of the Phoenix’ 11 defeats came in direct games against the “big five”, including 4-2 and 5-3 defeats to Bracknell.

Results this season:
18-Nov: Hornets 4 (Tarczycki, S. Fisher, Hind-Pitcher, B. Ealey-Newman) – Phoenix 3 (H. Wootton, Adeniran-Adams, Richardson)
30-Dec: Phoenix 3 (B. Wootton, H. Wootton, Abbott) – Hornets 5 (J. Ealey-Newman x3, Milton, Hughes)

With this tie taking place over just one leg, anything can happen. Bracknell are not on the best of form, but will have home advantage. Guildford really have nothing to lose – they have played a fantastic season whatever the outcome – but they would love to reach the Final Four in their first season in the league. This one is tough to call but Bracknell probably have the edge.

Don’s Prediction: Bracknell 5-3 Guildford
Laurence’s Prediction: Bracknell 6-4 Guildford

Chelmsford Chieftains (4) vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms (5)

First leg @ Peterborough on 14th April
Second leg @ Romford on 15th April (Chieftains home game)

An intriguing two-legged tie awaits between the fourth and fifth placed sides in the league, as the on-form Chelmsford Chieftains square off against a Peterborough side that was undefeated in March but saw their last two regular season games cancelled.

This quarter-final tie was also not immune to the ice time issues that have plagued two of the other quarter-finals, with Chelmsford unable to use their Riverside rink for the second leg. Luckily, the Chieftains were able to find ice time at the Sapphire in Romford, so they will host the second leg there.

Chelmsford (20 wins/6 regulation losses, 40 points) had an odd start to the campaign, not playing many games before Christmas which left them with a big backlog of fixtures to complete in the later stages of the season. After winning six of their first seven games, the Chieftains went on a horrendous run of four defeats in their next seven which took them right out of title contention. However they bounced back from February onward, winning 11 of their last 12 games to cement fourth place in the standings.

A lot of the scoring responsibility for the Chieftains falls on the shoulders of the Bartlett twins Grant and Cameron. Both were banned for their involvement in controversial incidents against the Invicta Mustangs in the second game of the season – Grant for significantly longer than his brother – but both bounced back from that to finish in the top eight in the league scoring with 55 points each. Grant managed those in just 14 games – a rate of nearly four points per game.

Peterborough (17 wins/7 regulation losses/2 games awarded 0-0, 36 points) started the season like a dream, the reigning NIHL South 2 treble winners winning their first seven on the bounce including their first game against a former NIHL1 side as they knocked off Solent in OT. However six defeats in their next nine games – all coming against former NIHL1 sides – saw the Phantoms drop down the table.

They recovered as the season went on, winning seven of their last eight with only a defeat away at Slough slowing them down. Unfortunately for the Phantoms, their last two games of the season were cancelled and awarded as 0-0 due to a lack of ice time, so they come into this tie having not played in three weeks.

Results this season:
09-Dec: Phantoms 1 (Herring) – Chieftains 7 (Brears x2, France x2, Wilson, Mills, C. Bartlett)
17-Dec: Chieftains 8 (Brears x2, Leone x2, C. Bartlett, Oravec, Dervish, Ayling) – Phantoms 3 (Bavin, Moore, Pentecost)

The Chieftains dominated the two games between the sides this season, and that was without Grant Bartlett who was serving his lengthy ban. With both of the Bartlett twins in the team together and on good form, it will be very tough for Peterborough to get the best of the Chieftains over two legs in this tie.

Don’s Prediction: Chelmsford 10-8 Peterborough (agg. score)
Laurence’s Prediction: Chelmsford 12-7 Peterborough (agg. score)

Fixture information

17:15 Bristol Pitbulls vs Oxford City Stars (1st leg)
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Guildford Phoenix (only leg)
18:30 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Chelmsford Chieftains (1st leg)

17:00 Solent Devils vs Slough Jets (only leg)
17:15 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms (2nd leg)
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs Bristol Pitbulls (2nd leg)

NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Final League Standings

We’ll have updates on scores and scorers from all the games as we get the information. Going to a game? We’d love to know what’s happening – tweet us @482days with your updates!

482days Expert Prediction Competition (after Sunday 8th April)

Don: 144 pts
Laurence: 138 pts

Our experts get 1 point for every correct result, and 3 points if they predict the exact score. (Although as they say: prediction is a mug’s game…)

April 13th, 2018 by