After an opening weekend that saw the very tightest of tight wins for the Bristol Pitbulls over the Slough Jets – a goal with four seconds(!) left in regulation time denying us a first overtime of the campaign – and a hard-fought, come-from-behind victory for the Basingstoke Buffalo over the Haringey Huskies (which was sadly all for naught), this weekend sees six games on the schedule, with four on Saturday and two on Sunday.
Saturday sees the first game back in NIHL2 for the Oxford City Stars, having dropped down from NIHL1 in the off-season, as they take on newcomers Guildford. Reigning NIHL South 2 (East) champions Peterborough start off their campaign at Invicta, as do another side that dropped down from NIHL1, the Bracknell Hornets, against Basingstoke. There is also a London Derby on the cards as the Lee Valley Lions travel to Alexandra Palace to face the newly-formed Haringey Huskies, who lost 6-3 to Basingstoke in their first ever match, a result that was later changed to a 5-0 win for Haringey due to the Buffalo fielding an ineligible player.
Sunday sees both Lee Valley and Oxford play their first home games of the season, as the Lions host the Hornets, while Oxford play host to Bristol.
Invicta Mustangs vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
After a dominant season in 2016-17, winning the Treble of the NIHL South 2 (East) league title, NIHL South 2 Cup and NIHL South 2 Playoffs, the Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms (formerly Islanders) kick off their campaign away to the Invicta Mustangs.
The Phantoms have kept almost their entire team together from last season, with 17 of their top 18 scorers returning – only import Deivid Cetvertak has not re-signed at the time of writing. That means the likes of James Pentecost, Connor Stokes, Clint Herring and the Pollard brothers Nathan and Conor should continue to terrorise defences this time around. And while the NIHL2 has been bolstered by four teams dropping down from the NIHL1 this season, the Phantoms can still be expected to challenge for the title with the very strong side they have kept together.
Invicta are a team on the up, with 6th (and last) place finishes in the NIHL South 2 (East) in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 being followed up by a rise to 3rd place last season. The Mustangs have also kept a very strong core together over many seasons, and will hope to reap the rewards of a group of players who have matured together – although this season looks a lot tougher for the Mustangs with the aforementioned NIHL1 teams dropping down. They will be helped by the additions of Anthony Baskerville and Bradley Gutridge, who return after one (Baskerville) and two (Gutridge) seasons respectively with the Invicta Dynamos in NIHL1.
This match would not have looked out of place last season, with both sides fielding largely unchanged rosters. As with last season, Peterborough can be expected to have the upper hand, with their offensive firepower mixed with an experienced blueline and the classy Dan Lane in net likely proving too much for a plucky Mustangs side.
Don’s Prediction: Invicta 1-4 Peterborough
Laurence’s Prediction: Invicta 2-5 Peterborough
Haringey Huskies vs Lee Valley Lions
In the second week of the season, the new Haringey Huskies organisation celebrate their first home game at Alexandra Palace, with a London derby against the Lee Valley Lions no less. In 16 games (14 in the league and 2 pre-season games) between the previous Haringey Racers franchise – that existed between 2013 and 2017 – and the Lions, Haringey were able to come out on top in 13 of those ties, which were usually hard-hitting, quick tempo affairs. Lee Valley did manage to win the final meeting between the two sides, however, with a 6-4 win at the Palace in March 2017, aided by a third period hat trick from Ross Sin-Hidge. And although the Huskies are a new team, they retain many players and off-ice staff members from the Racers, so we can expect derby games between the Lions and the Huskies to follow in a similar vein as those in the past four seasons.
Haringey have eight players on their current roster with a Lee Valley past, with defencemen Alastair Band, Jack Ball and Ryan Payne, and forwards Stuart Appleby, Joe Berry, Ashlee Cave, Calum Heath and captain Ben Osborne all having played for the Lions during their career. Berry in particular played for the Lions in either junior or senior hockey from 2004 until 2016 almost non-stop, with a 29-game stint at the Romford Fury from 2009 to 2010 being his only senior experience away from Lee Valley.
Lee Valley also have several players who know Alexandra Palace very well, with netminder Robyn Maby and forwards Matt Brown, Chris Fox, Oliver Glover, Lee Hounslow, Ross Sin-Hidge and captain Nick Alley all having played junior and/or senior hockey for Haringey.
The Lions will be hoping to start their season with a bang with an opening day win against their local rivals, while the Huskies will be looking to show their home fans what the newly-formed team is made of, and atone for their 6-3 loss away to Basingstoke last weekend (although that result was later changed, the Huskies will nonetheless not have wanted to win that way). This one is hard to call, but whichever way the result goes, it should be an intense game.
Don’s Prediction: Haringey 5-4 Lee Valley
Laurence’s Prediction: Haringey 4-5 Lee Valley
Bracknell Hornets vs Basingstoke Buffalo
Bracknell Hornets have struggled for the past few seasons in South 1, so dropping down a league for this season made sense for them even without the major shifts in the ice hockey landscape. They get their season underway on Saturday at home against Basingstoke Buffalo, who looked to have picked up a big win last weekend over Haringey Huskies, but this was then overturned due to the aforementioned fielding of an ineligible player.
Basingstoke look to have dominated that game based on the scoreline, which was 6-3 in their favour, but the game was actually a closer affair. Haringey actually outshot the Buffalo 35-31 and Basingstoke picked up more penalties. But Basingstoke took advantage of their opportunities to find the back of the net six times, with Samuel Brooks scoring a brace.
The Buffalo will need to take all their opportunities against Bracknell, who have former Streatham netminder Will Sanderson between the pipes. Brothers Ben and Josh Ealey-Newman will be looking to score some goals for their new club, as will American import Sean Scarbrough, who also comes over from Streatham, where he scored 16 goals last season. Bracknell are expecting to challenge for home ice in the playoffs — Basingstoke will need to bring their A-game.
Don’s Prediction: Bracknell 4-3 Basingstoke
Laurence’s Prediction: Bracknell 7-3 Basingstoke
Guildford Phoenix vs Oxford City Stars
In one of the more intriguing matchups, we’ll be getting our first look at Oxford City Stars after they decided to drop down a league following the structural reshuffle, coupled with a chance to see a brand-new team from Guildford starting their life in front of home support. Saturday’s match could be one that will tell us a lot about these two sides.
The Phoenix did well in the offseason, signing a host of experienced players while also promoting Guildford youth. Former Flames forward Andy Hemmings will provide a wealth of expertise after signing with the squad as player-coach, and he is joined by one of his old Flames teammates Scott Greenfield, who moves to Guildford after most recently icing for Solent Devils. Bailey Wootton will also be relied upon heavily after playing two years for Invicta Dynamos and briefly appearing for Manchester Phoenix of the now-defunct EPIHL while out on loan. Against Oxford City, Guildford will be looking for new signing Joshua Abbott to get on the scoresheet—the new signing scored 27 goals and the same number of assists with Haringey last season.
For Oxford City, this is an early opportunity to show why they are regarded as one of the heavy favourites for the league title. There has been much discussion about the gap between former South 1 teams and regular South 2 sides, and Oxford will be looking to furnish proof that this gap does in fact exist. Key defencemen Dominic Hopkins and Andy Cox have stayed with the Stars, as does stalwart forward Darren Elliott. A couple of new signings add further goal scoring power as Alex Staples comes over from Chelmsford Chieftains and London Raiders’ Stewart Tait switches to the gold of Oxford City.
But still, it may be difficult to tell how good the Stars really are, no matter what the result is on Saturday. Guildford are a new team who need to gel and even should the Stars win big, that wouldn’t necessarily prove anything. A better measuring stick for the Oxford side will probably be their next opponents, who they face off against on Sunday: Bristol Pitbulls…
Don’s Prediction: Guildford 2-6 Oxford
Laurence’s Prediction: Guildford 3-5 Oxford
Oxford City Stars vs Bristol Pitbulls
Bristol are back in action away to Oxford City after opening their campaign last Sunday with a heart-in-mouth victory at home against Slough Jets. After trading a pair of goals in the first period, the Pitbulls opened up a 4-2 lead with under a quarter of an hour remaining. But Slough’s player-coach Lukas Smital, formerly of Bracknell Bees, scored twice in five minutes to level the scores.
Bristol weren’t about to see victory snatched away however and Olly Shone found the back of net with four seconds remaining to seal a 5-4 win. It was Shone’s second goal of the match; Bristol’s other goals were courtesy of Logan Prince, Joshua Dolphin and Michael Hargreaves. Bristol’s offense had little trouble on Sunday, peppering Jets netminder Chris Douglas with 63 shots; but on the flip side, Ross Miller faced a barrage of 41 shots from the Jets, and Bristol surrendered three powerplay goals.
Against the Stars, the Pitbulls will need to limit their penalties and continue to play positive offense. Oxford City will look to exploit the powerplay and contribute a high shot count of their own in what could potentially be a high-scoring affair.
Don’s Prediction: Oxford 7-5 Bristol
Laurence’s Prediction: Oxford 5-3 Bristol
Lee Valley Lions vs Bracknell Hornets
Less than 24 hours after their season opener away at Haringey, the Lee Valley Lions host their home opener on Sunday against the Bracknell Hornets, one of four teams to have dropped down from NIHL1 to NIHL2 this season. The Hornets themselves will have already played their opening game the previous night, at home to the Basingstoke Buffalo.
The Lions have largely kept the same team together as last campaign, with the main departures being defenceman Henry Aiken (to the Guildford Phoenix) and the Hepburn brothers James and Matthew. They have strengthened with former Haringey forward Matt Brown signing up, however the squad is quite thin at the time of writing (12 forwards and 4 defencemen) with head coach George Alley looking to add at least one blueliner to the roster as soon as possible.
The Hornets, meanwhile, look to have put together a very strong NIHL2 roster. With the aforementioned Will Sanderson in net, experienced defencemen Jack Tarczycki and Carl Graham, and dangerous forwards Steve Fisher, Sean Scarbrough, player-coach Danny Hughes and the Ealey-Newman brothers Josh and Ben, Bracknell have a core of players who have all proven themselves at NIHL1 level already, so they should be a formidable side this season in NIHL2.
If there’s one thing we can always expect from the Lions, it is that they will put up a strong fight, especially at home. However the firepower and experienced backline of the Hornets could prove to be too much for the East London side in this one, especially with Lee Valley’s shortages on the blueline, with the Hornets favourites to take the win.
Don’s Prediction: Lee Valley 4-7 Bracknell
Laurence’s Prediction: Lee Valley 2-7 Bracknell
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Oxford City Stars
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Lee Valley Lions
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Bracknell Hornets
18:15 Oxford CIty Stars vs Bristol Pitbulls
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.
482days Expert Prediction Competition (after week 1)
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…)