The title battle in NIHL South 2 is really hotting up, with Bracknell coming out on top in last weekend’s crunch game with Solent to perhaps put themselves in the driver’s seat. With leaders Oxford having this weekend off, Bracknell and Solent have one crucial game each on Saturday in which they can further try to close down the gap to the City Stars at the top of the pile.
Bracknell face a tough trip to the “mini-hangar” on Saturday as they travel to face playoff-chasing Slough in a Berkshire derby, while Solent are also on the road as they face a Guildford side looking to secure a top six spot in the table. Another team on strong form are Chelmsford, who are in Kent on Saturday to face the Invicta Mustangs.
Chelmsford are in action again on Sunday as they welcome the Cardiff Fire to town, while Peterborough and Guildford face off in a key clash in the battle for fifth spot in the league. Finally, Bristol face Basingstoke in a battle of two sides who still have outside hopes of reaching the playoffs.
Invicta Mustangs vs Chelmsford Chieftains
Any hopes that the Invicta Mustangs still have of making the playoffs could be put to bed on Saturday as they welcome a red hot Chelmsford side to town.
Invicta (6 wins/15 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 13 points) currently sit in 12th place, and can still mathematically qualify for the playoffs – although with a six point deficit to make up to Haringey in just four games, it will take a brilliant run of form for the Mustangs as well as other results going their way. The Kent-based side have only won six games all season, and have never won two on the bounce; and Saturday’s game will be no easy task as the Mustangs take on a Chieftains side who beat them 11-1 back in October.
Chelmsford (16 wins/5 regulation losses, 32 points) lost three of four games in January and seemed to be struggling in their battle to finish in the top four, but a fantastic month of February has put them right back in contention. The Essex side won all five games in February and have won both their games so far in March, putting them on a seven game winning streak in which they have scored 73 goals at an average of 10.4 goals per game! The dangerous Bartlett twins are on unbelievable form right now, with Cameron scoring 33 points in those seven games and Grant – voted NIHL South 2 Player of the Month for February – bagging 36 points in the same time span.
Invicta will do very well to get anything out of this encounter with a Chieftains side that are playing dominant hockey and have put themselves right back in contention for a strong league placing come the end of the season.
Don’s Prediction: Invicta 4-9 Chelmsford
Laurence’s Prediction: Invicta 3-10 Chelmsford
Guildford Phoenix vs Solent Devils
Following their defeat to Bracknell last week, the Solent Devils will look to keep their title challenge on track when they visit the Spectrum to take on a Guildford side looking to cement a top six finish.
Guildford (13 wins/8 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 27 points) made hard work of their victory over Basingstoke last weekend, defeating the Buffalo in overtime 3-2, and indeed the Phoenix have lost three of their last five games. One of those defeats was a 7-2 loss in Gosport against the Devils, and Guildford will hope for a better result than that at home against the same opposition. Player-coach Andrew Hemmings sits 14th in league scoring with 42 points in just 19 games, and the crafty veteran will have to be at his best – as will goalgetters Josh Abbott and Bailey Wootton – in order for Guildford to beat Solent in this one.
Solent (18 wins/2 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 37 points) finally saw their 14 game winning streak snapped last weekend as they went down 2-1 to Bracknell in a tight encounter. The next two games against Guildford and Haringey are crucial for Solent, as they finish the season in the toughest possible way: at home to Bracknell, away to Oxford, and then at home to Oxford. Only a win will do in this game if Solent want to keep up the pressure on the other two title-contending teams, and they will hope for big scoring from the likes of Richard Facey, Drew Campbell and the Murray brothers Alex and Mitchell – all of whom were kept goalless in the game against the Hornets.
While Solent will have been disappointed with last weekend’s result, they will still know that the title is within their grasp so they will be very motivated for this game. It should be closer than the previous encounter between the two sides, but expect Solent to come out on top in the end.
Don’s Prediction: Guildford 4-6 Solent
Laurence’s Prediction: Guildford 4-7 Solent
Slough Jets vs Bracknell Hornets
Slough have moved a step closer to the playoffs, but face tough opposition this weekend when they welcome in the formidable Bracknell Hornets in a Berkshire derby.
Slough (10 wins/13 regulation losses, 20 points) needed overtime to defeat Haringey in their marquee matchup last weekend, but defeat them they did, securing a vital two points to further secure seventh place in the league. Slough led 2-0 after the first period, but the Huskies mounted a rally and the game was level at 3-3 at the end of regulation. With both clubs level on points, and Cardiff and Bristol closing fast behind them for the final playoff spots, each club was desperate for the two points, and Liam Underdown secured them for Slough with the winning goal.
Bracknell (18 wins/1 regulation loss, 36 points) also picked up a huge win last time out, defeating second-place Solent 2-1 in regulation to move within a point of second place—and the Hornets still have two games in hand. Bracknell have every reason to hope they can finish the season in second—and there’s still a chance they could overtake Oxford City. But they’ll need to keep picking up wins, and Slough are not push-overs at the mini-Hangar. The Jets have beaten Chelmsford and Peterborough there—Bracknell better not coast into this game if they want the two points.
The two sides met back in late November in Bracknell, and it was the Hornets who emerged victorious, 9-3. Slough have improved since then, and have home ice on Saturday, but will that be enough against the dominant Hornets?
Don’s Prediction: Slough 4-3 Bracknell
Laurence’s Prediction: Slough 3-5 Bracknell
Bristol Pitbulls vs Basingstoke Buffalo
Bristol and Basingstoke meet on Sunday, a week after both sides lost 3-2 to their respective opponents, virtually ending hopes of a late push for the playoffs.
Bristol (7 wins/13 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 15 points) are still in contention, perhaps, but they need a lot of wins and even more helpings of luck in order to chase down eighth place. The Pitbulls are mired in a three-game losing streak, and their last two losses were particularly painful, as they fell to Haringey and Swindon, both times by a solitary goal. Bristol fans might be optimistic about their club’s upcoming matches, as they play Basingstoke this week and then host 12th-place Invicta on the following Saturday. But their final four games are against Chelmsford, Guildford, Peterborough and Bracknell—and all on the road. Ouch.
Basingstoke (5 wins/13 regulation losses/4 OT losses, 14 points) have not been eliminated from contention, technically speaking, but in reality their chances are nil after another loss last weekend, this time in OT to Guildford. One point was not enough for the Buffalo, who sit five points out of the playoffs with four games remaining. They need to win three out of those four to take over eighth place—and that’s assuming that Haringey, Cardiff and Bristol don’t pick up any points. What’s more, the Buffalo are unlikely to win three of four, as they have to travel to face Slough, who have been brilliant at home, and Lee Valley, who will be furiously fighting for their first win of the season. Basingstoke then end the season against Chelmsford, and that should be their final game until next season.
So chances are neither side will make the playoffs, but who will prevail in this game? Bristol visited Basingstoke earlier in the season and came away with a 5-2 victory. Considering that the Pitbulls won’t have given up hope yet, they may come into this game with a bit more fighting spirit.
Don’s Prediction: Bristol 6-3 Basingstoke
Laurence’s Prediction: Bristol 4-2 Basingstoke
Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Guildford Phoenix
Guildford are in action for the second time in the weekend as they follow up a tough encounter against Solent with another difficult game, this time away to Peterborough. This game could go a long way towards determining who finishes fifth in the league come the end of the season.
Peterborough (14 wins/7 regulation losses, 28 points) had a relatively simple formbook up until last weekend: wins against classic NIHL2 sides, but defeats against the former NIHL1 clubs (the sole exception being their OT win over Solent back in October). Their last game saw the formbook ripped up however, as the Phantoms fell 4-1 to the Slough Jets at the “mini hangar”. None of Peterborough’s big names came to the party in that game, with 16-year-old forward Jarvis Hunt scoring their only goal, assisted by a pair of 17-year-old’s Taylor Romeo and Jack Escott – a goal guaranteed to make the majority of NIHL fans feel very old indeed! The Phantoms will hope that their usual dangerous players are back on top form for the visit of the Phoenix.
Guildford fell 2-1 at home to the Phantoms when the sides met at the start of last month, a game which showed how evenly-matched the two teams are. And with just one point between them in the table – Peterborough sit in fifth on 28 points while Guildford have 27 points in sixth – a victory for Guildford could prove to be massive for them, in what is still their first season at this level.
This game should be extremely tight, and it really is very hard to call. It would not be a surprise at all if it went all the way to overtime.
Don’s Prediction: Peterborough 4-3 Guildford
Laurence’s Prediction: Peterborough 3-2 Guildford (OT)
Chelmsford Chieftains vs Cardiff NIHL2 Fire
Chelmsford put their good form on the line at home on Sunday against a Cardiff team still on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
Chelmsford have had a busy time of it recently, cramming in seven games from 4 February to 4 March. The result is that they have moved up into fourth place, qualified for the playoffs and no longer have a bunch of games in hand. The Chieftains have done well, winning all seven of those fixtures—but they don’t get any rest for the next few weeks. They’ll have already played against Invicta on Saturday, before Sunday’s game against Cardiff. Then on the following weekend they play Bracknell and Bristol back-to-back. The fitness of Chelmsford’s players is really being tested, but so far they’ve come through with flying colours.
Cardiff (8 wins/11 regulation losses, 16 points) are still three points out of the playoffs, sitting in ninth behind Haringey; but the Fire have four games in hand on the Huskies. The bad news for Cardiff is that besides playing Chelmsford on Sunday, they still have to face Oxford City, Peterborough and Bracknell. They will play two must-win games against Swindon—and they are away to Haringey on 7 April. The winner of that game will probably be the club that goes to the playoffs.
Cardiff have won just twice in their last eight games, and when they hosted Chelmsford last month, the Chieftains went away with an 11-3 win. Cardiff would love to pick up an upset on the road—it would do wonders for their playoff chances—but look for Chelmsford to get the points.
Don’s Prediction: Chelmsford 12-4 Cardiff
Laurence’s Prediction: Chelmsford 9-5 Cardiff
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Chelmsford Chieftains
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Solent Devils
18:00 Slough Jets vs Bracknell Hornets
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:30 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Guildford Phoenix
18:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Cardiff NIHL2 Fire
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings
High and low indicate highest and lowest possible finishing position in the league
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!
Looking for info on the NIHL1 games? You can find the NIHL1 South weekend preview HERE.
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