Bracknell’s defeat in Peterborough last weekend has blown the NIHL South 2 title race wide open, with the Hornets now no longer looking like favourites. However the fourth-placed side have two games this weekend in which to get their faltering title charge back on track, including a clash with second-placed Solent on Saturday. Solent also have the “small matter” of a clash with league leaders Oxford on Sunday.
Saturday’s biggest game is the aforementioned clash between Solent and Bracknell, but there are two more games on the schedule too; playoff-chasing Haringey welcome Guildford to Ally Pally, while Peterborough welcome Cardiff, another team looking to make it into the post-season.
It promises to be a busy Sunday with five games scheduled. In addition to Oxford against Solent and Bracknell vs Invicta, we will also see Lee Valley hosting Basingstoke, Guildford welcoming Bristol and Cardiff playing their second away game of the weekend as they travel to Swindon.
Solent Devils vs Bracknell Hornets
Solent still have a chance at winning the league, but they face two must-win games this weekend against Bracknell and Oxford City. First up, the Hornets on Saturday.
Solent (20 wins/2 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 41 points) will certainly be looking for revenge after losing 2-1 away to Bracknell on 3 March, but they’ll be aiming for a lot more than just that. Solent are three points behind Oxford City with a game in hand—and will face the league leaders twice to end the season. If Solent fail to pick up points from any one of their three remaining games, the Stars will win the league. But Solent are a good team and have lost just once in their last 17 games.
Bracknell (18 wins/1 OT loss/2 regulation losses, 37 points) are in a small downward spin right now, which is not a position they want to be in with the playoffs fast approaching. After their shock loss OT loss to Slough on the 10th, they lost again last Sunday, 2-1 away to Peterborough. They have now slipped down to fourth place, but they do have plenty of games in hand and technically are still in the running to win the league, although it’s unlikely. They can certainly aim for third or even second but they will need to return to their winning ways.
This is a hard one to predict. Bracknell have slipped up over the last fortnight, but they did beat Solent earlier this month. That meeting was a very well-contested encounter—expect Saturday’s game to be much of the same.
Don’s Prediction: Solent 3-2 Bracknell (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Solent 4-3 Bracknell
Haringey Huskies vs Guildford Phoenix
Haringey are still clinging onto the final playoff spot as they welcome Guildford to Ally Pally on Saturday.
Haringey (9 wins/14 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 19 points) have won just once in their last 10 games, but somehow they have continued to occupy the final playoff spot. However, things have become very close in recent weeks. Bristol are level on points with a game in hand, and Cardiff are three points behind but with three games in hand. Haringey have just two games remaining and they really need to win both of them. They’ll finish the season with a mouth-watering home clash against Cardiff, but it starts this weekend against Guildford. The Huskies will be underdogs (pardon the pun), but if they want to make it to the playoffs, they’ve simply got to pull off the upset.
Guildford (13 wins/10 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 27 points) are in an interesting position. They can’t catch up the “Top Five” teams (the former South 1 sides and Peterborough) but they are under no danger from Slough in seventh or anyone else below the Jets. The Phoenix will want to avoid any injuries and cut down on fatigue, but at the same time, they can’t afford to coast as they will want to be at peak form when the playoffs arrive. It’s nice to go into the postseason on a winning streak, but Haringey and Bristol (their final opponent) both gave Guildford a real fight in earlier meetings. The Phoenix defeated Haringey by just two goals last time around, and that was at home.
Again, the expectation is that Guildford will take the points, but Haringey cannot be counted out of this match. They need the win too badly.
Don’s Prediction: Haringey 5-6 Guildford (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Haringey 3-5 Guildford
Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Cardiff NIHL2 Fire
Peterborough host Cardiff in a rematch of the Phantoms hard-fought victory back in January.
Peterborough (16 wins/7 regulation losses, 32 points) had a mid-season slump but that seems to be well and truly a thing of the past, as they’ve won six of their last seven, with a loss to the upset-specialising Slough Jets being the only blip on the radar. Last week they welcomed Bracknell to town and sent the Hornets away with a 2-1 loss, in what was a goalless affair until the 49th minute when Kenny Bavin gave Peterborough the lead. Harvey Hind-Pitcher equalised for the Hornets with just a few minutes left on the clock, but in the 58th minute captain Clint Herring scored to give the Phantoms the two points.
Cardiff (8 wins/13 regulation losses, 16 points) have two games this weekend, and they’ll be aiming to win both of them to keep their playoffs hope alive and well. With Slough almost certain to clinch a spot sometime in the next fortnight, Cardiff will have to beat out Haringey and Bristol for the final place. The Fire have one win in six, and those five losses have been pretty brutal. However, it must be remembered that those losses were all against the former South 1 clubs, as Cardiff played twice against Oxford City and Chelmsford, and once against Solent. Their remaining schedule includes two winnable games against Swindon, an enticing clash against Haringey and a visit from the Hornets.
The Fire could realistically make the playoffs winning just three from their last five, but an upset win over Peterborough wouldn’t hurt. They only lost 3-2 last time, although that was at home. The Phantoms have won eight out of their ten home games so far, so this is a tough ask for Cardiff.
Don’s Prediction: Peterborough 7-3 Cardiff
Laurence’s Prediction: Peterborough 6-3 Cardiff
Guildford Phoenix vs Bristol Pitbulls
Guildford are in action again on Sunday and this time they’re at home, with Bristol paying them a visit.
This is Guildford’s final game of the regular season, and with a long lay-off ahead of them before the playoffs begin, the Phoenix will be aiming for a big win. Then it’s simply time to keep practicing as the weeks roll by until the quarterfinals start on 14 April.
Bristol (9 wins/13 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 19 points) are not going to be pushovers, though. They are in ninth place, fighting to make the playoffs along with Cardiff and Haringey. Earlier this month, they were practically out of the running, but wins over Basingstoke and Invicta have put them right back in it. They play Bracknell and Peterborough away after this clash with Guildford, so this weekend’s game will be their easiest remaining fixture.
Last time these two teams met, it was a close affair, with Guildford leaving with a 2-1 victory. The Pitbulls will need to keep it close again on Sunday—only this time, they must come away with two points.
Don’s Prediction: Guildford 5-3 Bristol
Laurence’s Prediction: Guildford 3-4 Bristol (OT)
Lee Valley Lions vs Basingstoke Buffalo
A real basement battle awaits us on Sunday as bottom club Lee Valley welcome Basingstoke – currently sitting in 11th place – to the Den.
Lee Valley (19 regulation losses/3 OT losses, 3 points) looked like they were well on their way to finally taking a win this season as they led 3-2 in Swindon in the 27th minute of their game last Saturday. But a crazy seven minutes saw the Lions concede five goals and they ended up losing the game 8-4. They will desperately hope to take a win in this Sunday’s home game against a Basingstoke side that has won just one game since November. The problem? That one win for Basingstoke came against the Lions last month. Lee Valley may also be without influential captain Nick Alley, who hurt his knee in the game in Swindon.
Basingstoke (5 wins/15 regulation losses/4 OT losses, 14 points) as previously mentioned have won just once since November, a 5-2 win at home over the Lions just over a month ago. Since then, the Buffalo have lost four games on the bounce, although they were all fairly close. One player catching the eye recently has been netminder Aaron Craft who has been receiving rave reviews for his performances, despite not being able to steal many wins for his team.
It will be a tough ask for the Lions to win their first game of the season without their captain, but with home ice advantage and facing a team that is out of form themselves, it may be Lee Valley’s best chance of taking that long-awaited win.
Don’s Prediction: Lee Valley 4-2 Basingstoke
Laurence’s Prediction: Lee Valley 5-4 Basingstoke
Bracknell Hornets vs Invicta Mustangs
Bracknell play for the second time in the weekend on Sunday, as they take on an Invicta Mustangs side that have already been eliminated from playoff contention.
The Hornets will see this game as a must-win, especially if they happened to lose the previous night’s game against Solent. They cannot afford a slip-up in this one as they chase the title or, at the very least, second place in the standings.
Invicta (6 wins/17 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 13 points) have struggled to score goals this season, and as a result find themselves 12th in the standings and mathematically unable to make the playoffs. They have also been unable to win two games in a row all season long which has hurt them, as they have never been able to go on a winning run to build up some momentum. Indeed they have only won 2 games in 2018 so far, one each in January and February.
When these sides met last month, it was a surprisingly tight 3-1 away win for the Hornets. With Bracknell playing at home this time, and desperate to keep themselves in the title picture. expect a bigger win this time around.
Don’s Prediction: Bracknell 9-2 Invicta
Laurence’s Prediction: Bracknell 8-2 Invicta
Oxford City Stars vs Solent Devils
The second massive clash of the weekend for the Solent Devils sees them travel to Oxford to take on the league-leading City Stars.
Oxford (22 wins/2 regulation losses, 44 points) have won eight games in a row since their loss to Bracknell back in early January, as they have tightened their grip at the top of the table. They only have two games left in the regular season – both against the Devils. The Stars took a routine 12-0 win in Cardiff last weekend, with eight different players on the scoresheet including defenceman Dominic Hopkins who bagged a hat-trick.
One player who will not be on the scoresheet either this weekend, or for the rest of the season, is Czech forward Kamil Kinkor, who has left the Stars due to work and family commitments. That will be a big loss for the team, with Kinkor currently second in league scoring on 75 points from just 23 games.
Solent will have already played against Bracknell the night before, so will be looking to either bounce back from that loss or take two wins on the weekend. Whatever the result the night before, this is a huge game for the Devils and one they have to win if they want to maintain their chances of taking the league title. We say it every week, but the likes of Richard Facey – the only player ahead of Kinkor in league scoring with 79 points – Drew Campbell and the Murray brothers Alex and Mitchell will have to be on top form as usual.
This game is very hard to call, with both sides not having faced each other yet this season. Home advantage may give a slight edge to the Stars in this one, but it could go either way.
Don’s Prediction: Oxford 4-3 Solent (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Oxford 6-4 Solent
Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Cardiff NIHL2 Fire
Playoff-chasing Cardiff play their second road game of the weekend on Sunday, as they make the relatively short trip to Swindon to take on a resurgent Wildcats side.
Swindon (5 wins/16 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 11 points) have won their last two games on the bounce, with 3-2 win over Bristol and an 8-4 victory over Lee Valley. In both those games they were able to field a full roster of 20 skaters and 2 netminders, and the mix of youth and experience in the Wildcats side finally seems to be gelling together at the right time. They will definitely be a tough opponent for Cardiff.
The Fire will have already played a tough game in Peterborough the previous night, so an away game against a speedy Swindon side the following day is not exactly what the doctor ordered. Cardiff are faltering in their quest to get into playoff contention, with only one win from their last six games meaning they are three points off a playoff place at the moment. They still have enough games in hand to make up this deficit, but they need to improve their form if they want to make that jump.
This game is hard to predict and could depend on the bench strength of the respective teams. If Swindon field another full lineup and play like they did against Bristol and Lee Valley, it will be a very tough night indeed for the Fire.
Don’s Prediction: Swindon 4-5 Cardiff
Laurence’s Prediction: Swindon 4-3 Cardiff (OT)
17:00 Solent Devils vs Bracknell Hornets
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Guildford Phoenix
18:45 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Cardiff Fire
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Bristol Pitbulls
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Basingstoke Buffalo
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Invicta Mustangs
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs Solent Devils
19:45 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats 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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