Last weekend was a key weekend in the NIHL South 2 title race, with Bracknell and Solent taking two wins apiece to close in on leaders Oxford. This weekend, Oxford and Solent are each in action once, while Bracknell have the weekend off.
Saturday’s schedule consists of five games, with the aforementioned Oxford and Solent both in action. League leaders Oxford make the short journey to Swindon to take on the Wildcats, who have been hitting form recently; while Solent host Basingstoke in another derby game. Meanwhile Peterborough look to arrest their recent drop in form as they entertain Invicta, Slough play host to Chelmsford whose own title ambitions suffered a blow last weekend with defeat to Solent, and Cardiff welcome Guildford with both sides coming off victory last weekend.
There are three games on Sunday, with Chelmsford welcoming Swindon to the Riverside, Cardiff making the trip to face the Bristol Pitbulls in their temporary home of Oxford, and the Lee Valley Lions playing a home game for the first time in seven weeks as they welcome Slough to the Den.
Solent Devils vs Basingstoke Buffalo
Saturday’s action kicks off with a Hampshire derby as the Basingstoke Buffalo, currently 11th in the league on 10 points, make the short trip to Gosport to face the high-flying Devils who sit in third.
Solent (12 wins/1 regulation loss/1 OT loss, 25 points) have had a pretty successful start to life back in NIHL South 2 after five seasons in the league above; they have dropped just three of a possible 28 points this season, with their only defeats coming in regulation to Chelmsford and in OT to Peterborough – both strong sides. Against the more typical NIHL2 sides, the Devils have been unstoppable, and are currently on an eight game winning streak. However one key factor to note: the Devils have not faced either leaders Oxford or second placed Bracknell yet this season, with all four games against those two sides still to come. Solent recently strengthened with the signing of forward Evan Crockford, who has two goals in his five games to date, and defenceman Kyle Goddard, who has arrived from Saturday’s opponents Basingstoke.
The Buffalo (4 wins/8 regulation losses/2 OT losses, 10 points) currently sit just two points outside a playoff berth in the tightly-packed lower midfield, having won four games this season and lost two in OT to go along with eight regulation losses. Their last game was a thrilling clash with Haringey, in which the lead changed hands several time before the Huskies were able to skate away with a 6-5 OT victory. Basingstoke’s key player continues to be Canadian veteran Blair Dubyk, who leads the team on the ice with both his experience and his scoring prowess. He will need to have a massive game if Basingstoke are to get anything from this one, as will netminder Aaron Craft who is likely to face a lot of rubber.
When these two sides met at the start of the season, Solent skated away with a narrow 4-2 win. The Devils are now on top form and have made a few additions to the roster, so expect a more emphatic win in this encounter.
Don’s Prediction: Solent 7-4 Basingstoke
Laurence’s Prediction: Solent 7-4 Basingstoke
Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Invicta Mustangs
After winning their first seven games in a row to start the season, Peterborough have gone 3-6 in their last nine games to put them out of NIHL South 2 title contention. However they will still have hopes of securing a top four spot in the league, so this clash with playoff aspirants Invicta is a crucial one for both sides.
Peterborough (10 wins/6 regulation losses, 20 points) looked like they would be highly competitive in the new NIHL South 2 after the start they had – especially after inflicting defeat over the Solent Devils in overtime back in October. But since then, they have played six more games against former NIHL1 sides and lost all six. Their schedule appears to ease up now with several games against “classic” NIHL2 sides – but the question is whether they can regain their early season form. They kept the Bracknell Hornets to a close and respectable 5-3 scoreline last weekend, so will be hoping that they can get back to winning ways against the Mustangs. One interesting addition to the Phantoms side is netminder Ryan Bainborough, a former NIHL South 1 champion with Chelmsford, who will compete with regular starter Dan Lane for the gloves and who backed up Lane last weekend in Bracknell.
Invicta (5 wins/12 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 11 points) currently sit in 10th place, two positions and one point outside the playoffs. They’ve had an up-and-down season, with some big wins over rivals such as Bristol and Slough as well as some controversial games which have seen lengthy suspensions handed out to several of their players. However they seem to have compensated for those suspensions with two key additions to the squad; forward Richard Harris has scored three goals in his two games thus far to give Invicta more firepower up front, whilst they have also strengthened the backline with former Lee Valley Lions and Invicta Dynamos defenceman Jarvis Mewett.
Considering the recent form of both sides, Invicta will feel they have a chance in this one. However if Peterborough can return to form and play to their full potential, they should be too strong for the Mustangs in this encounter.
Don’s Prediction: Peterborough 6-2 Invicta
Laurence’s Prediction: Peterborough 6-3 Invicta
Slough Jets vs Chelmsford Chieftains
Slough Jets host Chelmsford Chieftains at the mini-Hangar on Saturday as the Jets aim to move into the playoff places and Chelmsford look to climb closer towards the top of the table.
Slough (6 wins/11 regulation losses, 12 points), like most of the teams in the lower half of the table, have struggled against the former South 1 clubs. But they have a sliver of hope against Chelmsford—the Chieftains were upset earlier in the season by Bristol, and Slough beat the Pitbulls just last week. That doesn’t mean another upset is on the cards, but psychologically it’s good for the Jets. That said, Slough didn’t have the easiest time knocking off Bristol last weekend. The Jets wanted revenge after surrendering the winning goal with three seconds left against the Pitbulls on the opening weekend, but on Saturday after the first period, it was 3-0 to Bristol. Neither team could find the back of the net in the second period, and then Slough roared to life in the third period in front of the home support. Timo Lindgren scored a hat-trick and player-coach Lukas Smital notched a brace, and Bristol were sent away with a 5-3 loss.
Chelmsford (8 wins/3 regulation losses, 16 points) will be the heavy favourites coming into this game, but they do arrive in Slough with a loss fresh in their minds. The Chieftains hosted Solent on Sunday, and would have been hoping to gain ground on the leaders, but things didn’t go according to plan. The game was close early on. Solent took the lead after seven minutes courtesy of Alex Murray and nine minutes later, Michal Oravec levelled the score for Chelmsford. The game was quiet until the clock ticked under half an hour to play, when Richard Facey put Solent ahead on the powerplay. Chelmsford equalised 35 seconds later and then Facey scored again within a minute to Solent back in the lead for good. Facey completed his hattie, and although Oravec scored twice more to earn his hat-trick for Chelmsford, it was not enough for the Chieftains as they fell, 5-3.
Last week may not have gone the way that Chelmsford had been hoping, but as said, they are still heavy favourites against Slough. The Jets will try for the upset, but it will be a tough one at the mini-Hangar.
Don’s Prediction: Slough 4-10 Chelmsford
Laurence’s Prediction: Slough 4-6 Chelmsford
Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Oxford City Stars
Swindon Wildcats put their newfound strength to the test again on Saturday as they welcome in table-topping Oxford City Stars.
Swindon (2 wins/10 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 5 points) have taken five points from their last four games, and while their most recent result was a loss to Solent, they fell by a mere two goals away to the former South 1 club. The game was perhaps even closer than the final scoreline indicates. The Wildcats were level with Solent into the final five minutes of the game, before Alex Murray scored to put Oxford City ahead. Swindon pulled their netminder in an effort to force overtime, but Richard Facey fired into the empty net to seal his hat-trick—and the win for Solent. Still, it’s yet another result will breed confidence amongst the Wildcats players.
Oxford (15 wins/2 regulation losses, 30 points) don’t need any more confidence, but they do need to keep up their winning pace. They are two points ahead of Bracknell in second, but the Hornets have two games in hand. Solent trail by five points, and have played three less games than the Stars. Oxford City have to keep picking up points against lower-ranked teams in order to stay ahead of the pack. They certainly did that on Sunday, obliterating Haringey Huskies by a score of 14-0. Haringey pulled goalie David Wride at the end of the first after he surrender five goals from 20 shots faced, but his replacement between the pipes, Jussi Lynch-Grut, didn’t do any better. Grut also failed to stop 25% of the shots he faced as Oxford added two goals in the second and seven more in the third. Joshua Florey scored the only hat-trick while five Stars players netted braces.
Swindon are a better team, and they keep proving this every week, but it’s hard to see this game going any other way than another win for Oxford City.
Don’s Prediction: Swindon 3-9 Oxford
Laurence’s Prediction: Swindon 3-10 Oxford
Cardiff NIHL2 Fire vs Guildford Phoenix
Cardiff host Guildford on Saturday in the Fire’s first of two games this weekend as they look to challenge Haringey for seventh place.
Cardiff (6 wins/5 regulation losses, 12 points) may not have points on the board, but they do have plenty of games in hand. Of the seven teams above them in the league, six have played at least three more games than the Fire have. Cardiff have six games in hand over league-leaders Oxford City. But as always with games in hand, they mean nothing in the end if you don’t win them. Cardiff will be looking for a four-point weekend and it all starts against the Phoenix. The two sides met in Guildford back in late November, and it was the Phoenix who took the points with an 8-4 win. The Fire will want to reverse that result on Saturday.
Guildford (9 wins/5 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 19 points) have continued to impress in their debut season in South 2. They sit in fifth place, and although their results have fallen off a little after a fast start to the season—they’ve won just three of their last seven—they’ve managed to keep pace with the top teams. All four of their most recent losses came against the former South 1 sides, and they notably took a point off Oxford City in an OT loss, so the Phoenix really have nothing to complain about. Certainly their first game of 2018 was one to celebrate, as they knocked off Lee Valley on Sunday, 12-1. Joshua Abbott scored a hat-trick, which gives him 15 goals and 25 points on the season, and Jonah Stoodley scored a brace for Guildford as they romped to a win.
Saturday’s game is really tough to call. Cardiff have been good at home this season, losing only to Oxford City and Peterborough. Guildford are 5-3 on the road, and again, all losses came against the ex-South 1 clubs. The Phoenix may have won the last meeting, but Cardiff are often poor on the road. This could go either way.
Don’s Prediction: Cardiff 6-7 Guildford (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Cardiff 7-5 Guildford
Lee Valley Lions vs Slough Jets
Sunday’s clash with Slough is perhaps the biggest of the season for the Lions so far – they are rooted to the bottom of the table and yet to win a game. And after a tough schedule that has seen them visit three of the league’s top five teams since their last home game, they will hope this is the game that finally allows them to break their duck.
Lee Valley (13 regulation losses/2 OT losses, 2 points) have not had a season to remember thus far. They have not managed to string together a strong enough performance over the whole 60 minutes in order to win a game, and they have also lost both games that they have taken to OT. One of those was away to Slough back in November, where the Lions were hurt by a 5+game penalty against captain and top scorer Nick Alley, going down 8-3. They were only 4-3 down at that point and playing well, so they will be hoping to play a full game at that level – if they do, they will feel they have a chance of knocking off the Jets.
Slough are on good form, with six wins and five losses in their last 11 games – and three of those losses were to former NIHL1 clubs. They have improved drastically from last season, and will be desperate to get into the playoff places – they currently sit one place outside the playoffs, but are only behind Cardiff on goal difference. If player coach Lukas Smital can continue his strong scoring run – he has 13 + 31 = 44 in just 15 games this season – and veteran netminder Chris Douglas can continue his strong form in net too, they will be tough to stop in this one.
On current form, Slough are the favourites here. But considering how desperate the Lions will be to finally win a game – their last win was actually against Slough on April 8th 2017 – and how they played in that loss in November, there is a chance that they could edge this one. Expect an exciting game.
Don’s Prediction: Lee Valley 5-7 Slough
Laurence’s Prediction: Lee Valley 4-3 Slough (OT)
Bristol Pitbulls vs Cardiff NIHL2 Fire
In what promises to be a tight encounter, Cardiff travel to Oxpens Road in Oxford to take on the Bristol Pitbulls. The meeting between the two sides in Wales earlier in the season ended with a narrow 3-2 win for the Fire, so the Pitbulls will look to reverse that result in this game.
Bristol (4 wins/8 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 9 points) have had a mostly underwhelming season to date. Aside from the stunning win over Chelmsford – probably the shock result of the season – they have struggled to string a good run together, and have lost their last three on the bounce. Whilst losing to teams like Oxford, Peterborough and Solent could have been expected, their last two games have seen them go down to Invicta and Slough – both teams that the Pitbulls will have aspirations of finishing above in the table. If they want to reach the top eight and thus the playoffs, the Pitbulls need to start stringing some good results together as soon as possible.
Cardiff have done an impressive job so far in NIHL2, considering how young the team is and how changeable the line-up can be from game to game – with some players helping out the NIHL1 Fire or unable to travel. We say it every week, but Cardiff sides are traditionally far better at home – however the Fire have also won two road games, proving that they can win outside of Wales too. With the NIHL1 Fire not playing on Sunday, expect a strong roster to make the short trip for this game. And if Rhys Harding (13 goals in nine games) and Robert Sedlak (10 goals in eight games) both continue their strong scoring form, this game could be very uncomfortable indeed for Bristol.
This one is really hard to call. The Pitbulls will be desperate to return to form at home, while the youthful Fire side will hope to continue their own strong form. This one should be tight, and could go to OT again just like the first encounter back in November.
Don’s Prediction: Bristol 5-6 Cardiff
Laurence’s Prediction: Bristol 5-4 Cardiff (OT)
Chelmsford Chieftains vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
Swindon’s tough weekend continues on Sunday as they travel to Essex where they will play the Chieftains.
Both teams will be playing their second game in as many days. The Wildcats will have already faced Oxford City, and following that up with a trip to Chelmsford is not a nice way for a lower-ranked team to spend their weekend. Chelmsford, on the other hand, will have played Slough away on Saturday and although the Jets are a decent enough club, it’s unlikely they will cause any trouble for the Chieftains.
This could be a four-point weekend for the Essex team; for Swindon, this may be a weekend of no points, but if they can run either Oxford City or Chelmsford close, they can at least view that as a positive as they try to make a late-season push for the playoffs.
Don’s prediction: Chelmsford 11-4 Swindon
Laurence’s Prediction: Chelmsford 6-4 Swindon
17:00 Solent Devils vs Basingstoke Buffalo
17:30 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Invicta Mustangs
18:00 Slough Jets vs Chelmsford Chieftains
18:15 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Oxford City Stars
18:30 Cardiff NIHL2 Fire vs Guildford Phoenix
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Slough Jets
18:15 Bristol Pitbulls vs Cardiff NIHL2 Fire
18:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) 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!
Looking for info on the NIHL1 games? You can find the NIHL1 South weekend preview HERE.
482days Expert Prediction Competition (after week 16)
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