After the second week of NIHL South 2 action, two teams have already established themselves at the top of the table: the Bracknell Hornets and the Oxford City Stars won both their games at the weekend and sit top of the pile on 4 points, and with double-figure goal differences. Haringey join them on 4 points after defeating Lee Valley last Saturday, but their other win came as a result of Basingstoke fielding an ineligible player. Also undefeated are Peterborough having played just the one game.
There are five games this weekend, all on Saturday, with the headline act sure to be Bracknell’s meeting with Oxford at the Hive. The way both teams have started their campaigns, this match could already be important in determining the destination of the league title, even though it is still very early in the season.
There are four other interesting games on Saturday, with Cardiff NIHL2 Fire starting off their campaign as they host Slough; Bristol hosting last season’s Treble winners Peterborough; Invicta playing host to the Huskies; and a Hampshire derby as Basingstoke take on the Solent Devils, who are playing their first game of the season.
Cardiff NIHL2 Fire vs Slough Jets
Slough Jets take to the ice again after having a fortnight to think of what might have been following their 5-4 loss to Bristol with three seconds remaining. The key for the Jets will be how well player-coach Lukas Smital has rallied his team to see the many positives from that loss, including their high total of shots on goal, goalkeeper Chris Douglas’ excellent evening between the pipes and their low tally of penalty minutes. But their defence will need to step up their game to prevent Douglas from having to face 63 shots as he did on the 10th.
Slough’s opponents on Saturday, Cardiff Fire 2 are one of four teams in South 2 who have yet to play this season, and the Fire will get their campaign underway with the home crowd on their side in a surprisingly early game -the puck drops at 2:45pm. Cardiff announced their roster on Thursday afternoon, and again have put together a solid team. Alan Armour is a key returning player, having scored 25 points across two seasons in Cardiff. Player-coach Gareth Dixon is again part of the squad, as expected, as are Ross Wilkinson, Dan Self, Joe Morris and Jordon Baber. Cardiff’s most notable new signing is a man with Elite League experience, Michael Hutchings, who has spent most of his career with various Cardiff clubs but most recently has played for Army. Cardiff have also promoted eight youth players and signed two from Oxford City. But that youth is tempered with the experience of their re-signed players, and Cardiff have a proven record of success in past campaigns. If last season is anything to go by, Cardiff should be one of the contenders this season, as last year they won all 14 of their matches in South 2 (West).
They will go into this game feeling confident that they can make a strong start and keep their unbeaten run alive. For Slough, they need to keep their wits about them as they have been handed a strenuously difficult start to the season with three away fixtures. They’ve already played Bristol, now they have to take on Cardiff and next weekend, they travel to Oxford City, who are another preseason favourite after dropping down from South 1 before the season. If Slough can take a few points from these next two weekends, they will feel they’ve done well.
Don’s Prediction: Cardiff 6-4 Slough
Laurence’s Prediction: Cardiff 4-2 Slough
Bristol Pitbulls vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
Peterborough are looking to continue their strong start to the season on the road this weekend as they travel to play Bristol at Oxford Ice Arena.
Peterborough started their season last Sunday away to Invicta and left with maximum points after a dominant 6-1 victory. The Phantoms peppered Invicta netminder Matthew Passmore with an incredible 70 shots on goal, although credit must be given to Passmore for stopping 91% of them. Meanwhile his counterpart between the pipes for Peterborough, Dan Lane, had comparatively little to do, facing just 28 shots including a dismal seven in the second period. Peterborough were disciplined, spending just 10 minutes in the penalty box, and other than giving up a shorthanded goal to temporarily put themselves behind in the first period, it was an excellent performance from them.
Bristol come into the game with a much less sunny outlook. After only narrowly holding off Slough Jets in the first weekend of the season, they were handed a 7-2 loss by Oxford City Stars. Bristol managed only nineteen shots, with Jamie Newton and Adrian Smith finding the back of the net. Saturday’s game against Peterborough is an opportunity for them to get their season back on track, but it won’t be easy. Peterborough should be very heavy favourites and this game could be all but over by the start of the third period.
Don’s Prediction: Bristol 3-9 Peterborough
Laurence’s Prediction: Bristol 3-6 Peterborough
Invicta Mustangs vs Haringey Huskies
Perhaps one of the most interesting ties of the weekend will see the Invicta Mustangs hosting the Haringey Huskies in Kent on Saturday. Invicta started their season off with a home loss to Peterborough last weekend, but there is no disgrace in losing to last season’s Treble winners. Michael Stokes scored the Mustangs’ only goal of the evening while netminder Matthew Passmore put in a heroic effort, stopping 64 of 70 Peterborough shots.
Haringey, meanwhile, were involved in a 15 goal thriller at home to the Lee Valley Lions, as they edged out their London rivals and won 8-7. Stephen Woodford was the star of the show banging in four goals, with Daniel Clayton. Sam Park and Stuart Appleby also impressing up front. The defence would have caused headaches for the Huskies coaching staff however, as they shipped seven goals against a Lee Valley side missing their captain and top scorer from last season, Nick Alley.
Haringey will be missing forward Joe Berry, who is banned for two matches after being served with a Match penalty for headbutting in the Lee Valley game.
If the Mustangs can put in a similar offensive effort to the Lions, and Passmore can come up big in net again, there is every chance of them winning this game against a Haringey side that looks much strengthened in comparison to last season’s Racers outfit, who finished behind Invicta in the NIHL South 2 (East) standings. This one is tough to call, and we could very well see our first overtime of the season in NIHL 2.
Don’s Prediction: Invicta 5-6 Haringey
Laurence’s Prediction: Invicta 4-5 Haringey
Bracknell Hornets vs Oxford City Stars
Is it too early to talk about crucial games in September? Perhaps so, but the way both Bracknell and Oxford have started off their league seasons, coupled with the strong rosters that both teams have, means that this game could be important come April when the league title is decided. With both teams expected to win most if not all of their games against the smaller NIHL 2 sides, direct games against the other former NIHL 1 teams will go some way to determining which way the league title goes.
Bracknell started off their season with an absolute bang: 10-3 and 11-1 wins over Basingstoke and Lee Valley respectively see the Hornets sitting atop the table with four points and a +17 goal difference. Former Streatham colleagues Steve Fisher and Sean Scarbrough showed fantastic chemistry in their first two games as Hornets, scoring four goals apiece last weekend. Also scoring four goals were Josh Ealey-Newman and player-coach Danny Hughes, while Will Stead chipped in with five assists. The Hornets have perhaps the best offence in the league which, coupled with a strong defence built around the likes of Jack Tarczycki and Carl Graham, makes them one of the favourites for the league title.
But with all due respect to Basingstoke and Lee Valley, Oxford will provide a completely different test for Bracknell this weekend. The Stars scored seven goals against both Guildford and Bristol last weekend, winning 7-1 and 7-2 respectively. Import Kamil Kinkor – coming off a broken leg sustained while he played for Bracknell in NIHL 1 last season – scored three goals across the two games, as did Joe Edwards who hit the milestone of 100 goals in an Oxford jersey in league play during the win over Guildford. The defence of the Stars also looks very strong, with netminders Mark Duffy and Milan Ronai able to rely on the likes of Dominic Hopkins, Alex Staples and Stewart Tait in front of them – all with significant higher level experience. They have also teased a new signing on social media, so there could be a new face in the lineup come Saturday evening…
This is sure to be a titanic tussle, and could go either way. As with the Invicta vs Haringey game, the possibility of OT cannot be ruled out in this one either. It really is too close to call.
Don’s Prediction: Bracknell 7-6 Oxford (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Bracknell 6-5 Oxford
Basingstoke Buffalo vs Solent Devils
A Hampshire derby rounds off the five NIHL 2 games this weekend, as the Basingstoke Buffalo host the Solent Devils, one of four teams who dropped down from NIHL 1 in the summer. Solent have not yet played this season, while Basingstoke sit bottom of the pile with 0 points from two games. They beat Haringey 6-3 on opening day but forfeited the game 5-0 due to fielding an ineligible player, and then lost 10-3 in Bracknell last Saturday.
The Buffalo will look to atone for these two results at home to Solent on Saturday, and they will probably be relying on Blair Dubyk to come up with scoring again. The wily Canadian veteran, who joined from the sadly defunct Wightlink Buccaneers in the summer, has already scored 3 goals this season. Samuel Brooks impressed against Haringey with two goals, while Warren Jones has one goal and two assists thus far.
Solent start their NIHL 2 campaign off a few weeks after the Buffalo, with player-coach Alex Murray building a strong-looking team over the summer. Star netminder Christian “Chico” Cole will be joined in net by Aaron Taylor, who has previously played for both Basingstoke and Solent and who returns to hockey after two years out. The core of last season’s Devils team, that often punched above its weight in NIHL 1, has been kept together; the likes of defencemen Alexander Cole and Ben Lock, and forwards Drew Campbell, Richard Facey and Alexander Trendall are all back.
Interesting to note is the amount of former Isle of Wight players on both sides. With both the NIHL 1 Raiders and the NIHL 2 Buccaneers folding, several players from those sides have joined either Basingstoke or Solent. Kieran Annis, Andrew McCloskey and Daniel Shier (Solent) all played on the Island last season, as did Aaron Craft, Blair Dubyk and Marcus Russell (Basingstoke), while many other players on both sides also have an Isle of Wight past.
The key to this game will really be how quickly Solent come out the blocks, and if they have any off-season rust to shake off. Once they are up to speed, they can be expected to beat Basingstoke; however if the Buffalo catch them off guard, they could come out with the victory.
Don’s Prediction: Basingstoke 3-5 Solent
Laurence’s Prediction: Basingstoke 2-4 Solent
14:45 Cardiff NIHL2 Fire vs Slough Jets
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
17:15 Invixta Mustangs vs Haringey Huskies
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Oxford City Stars
18:20 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Solent Devils
We’ll have updates on scores and scorers from all the games as we get the information as well as live twitter from Cardiff’s opener against Slough on Saturday. 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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