Title aspirants Oxford and Solent both won last weekend to keep up their hopes of winning the NIHL South 2 crown, but another title hopeful suffered a surprise defeat as Chelmsford went down 6-4 in Slough. This weekend, Oxford face off against Chelmsford, while Solent play back-to-back home games on both Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday’s opposition for Solent will be the Cardiff Fire, who make the long trip from south Wales to the south coast of England. Meanwhile Slough look to keep up their recent momentum – they have won three on the bounce – as they travel to Guildford; and Basingstoke welcome Swindon in a key battle towards the lower reaches of the table.
There are also three games on Sunday, with Chelmsford’s trip to Oxpens Road to take on the Oxford City Stars looking like the pick of the bunch. However there are two more big ties; with the Haringey Huskies looking to cling on to a playoff place as they travel to Peterborough to face the fourth placed Phantoms, and Solent hosting their second home game of the weekend against the Bristol Pitbulls.
Solent Devils vs Cardiff NIHL2 Fire
The gap at the top of South 2 is slowly closing, as third-place Solent have pulled to within five points of leaders Oxford City, with Bracknell sitting just four points behind the Stars. Solent can move ahead of Bracknell this week with a win, and they welcome in Cardiff, who have recently slumped out of the playoff places.
Solent (13 wins/1 regulation loss/1 OT loss, 27 points) have a win streak that is nearing double digits, as they stretched it to nine victories in a row on Saturday with an easy 5-0 win over Basingstoke. Solent held a 2-0 lead after the first period thanks to a couple of goals from Richard Facey. Mark Pitts made it 3-0 in the second, and then Pitts and Facey added another goal each in the final period to take the 5-0 win.
Cardiff (6 wins/7 regulation losses, 12 points) head to the Isle of Wight with a two-game losing streak which they picked up last weekend. On Saturday they hosted Guildford and it was the Phoenix who had the better start, taking a 2-0 lead after 15 minutes. The Fire replied with three unanswered goals courtesy of Rhys Harding, Robert Sedlak and Carter-Jaice Lloyd; but in the third period, Guildford responded in kind, finding the back of the net three times to take a 5-3 victory.
Solent and Cardiff have yet to meet this season, but judging by recent form, Solent will be heavily favoured to emerge with the points. But we’ve seen some major upsets this season (think Bristol and Slough knocking off Chelmsford), so don’t write off the Fire just yet.
Don’s Prediction: Solent 9-4 Cardiff
Laurence’s Prediction: Solent 8-3 Cardiff
Guildford Phoenix vs Slough Jets
Guildford will have their sights set on moving up to fourth place on Saturday, but it won’t be an easy target to achieve as the welcome in the surging Slough Jets.
Guildford (10 wins/5 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 21 points) have been consistent throughout the season, remaining firmly entrenched in the top half of the table. This week they’re in fourth place, just one point behind Peterborough, who have been mired in a dreadful slump ever since early November, but have somehow stayed in fourth. At this stage, Guildford’s move into fourth seems only a question of when. With the exception of a narrow defeat against Basingstoke on 10 October, the Phoenix have lost only to former South 1 sides—and only three of their final 10 games are against such teams. And against Slough, Guildford take the added momentum of a successful fortnight in which they crushed Lee Valley 12-1 and beat Cardiff away 5-3.
Slough (8 wins/11 regulation losses, 16 points) are no pushovers, however. The Jets have been surging up the table in recent times and sit in a shocking seventh place after a four-point weekend. In one of the season’s biggest upsets, Slough hosted Chelmsford on Saturday and raced out to a 5-1 lead, thanks to a brace from player-coach Lukas Smital and a goal apiece from Callum Farrell, Harry Harcup and Nathan Darmanin. The Chieftains furiously rallied, and pulled to within one. But Darmanin’s second of the game put the game out of reach and Slough sent Chelmsford away with a 6-4 loss. The Jets were then back in action on the following evening, visiting the winless Lee Valley Lions. Sunday’s game was even closer, as Lee Valley and Slough continued their trend of playing tight games. This one needed OT to separate them after they battled to a 2-2 draw at the end of regulation, and Slough grabbed their four points as Luke Reynolds found the back of the net just over a minute into OT.
Guildford and Slough met earlier in the season in Slough, with the Phoenix winning a close game, 7-5. Guildford have the added advantage of home ice in Saturday’s clash, but the Jets do have tremendous momentum with their three-game winning streak. Expect a great game.
Don’s Prediction: Guildford 6-7 Slough (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Guildford 4-3 Slough (OT)
Basingstoke Buffalo vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
Swindon players and fans will be breathing sighs of relief this weekend as they put their three-game stretch against the ex-South 1 clubs behind them. This week’s opponent is Basingstoke, who will be aiming to end their six-game losing streak.
The Buffalo (4 wins/9 regulation losses/2 OT losses, 10 points) haven’t won since, somewhat coincidentally, they defeated Swindon 3-2 away on 11 November. But Swindon have improved since then and Basingstoke have gone into a slump that places them just third from bottom, ahead of the Wildcats and Lee Valley. They’ve come close a few times, taking Peterborough and Haringey to overtime, but overall it has been a disappointing run. Last week was especially galling as Basingstoke were shut out for the first time this season, losing 5-0 to Solent.
Swindon (2 wins/12 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 5 points) have taken points from three of their last six games, and as pointed out above, their three losses came at the hands of Oxford City, Chelmsford and Solent. And the Wildcats only lost by two goals to Solent, although Chelmsford and Oxford had little trouble knocking them off. So Swindon will feel that they are much better than their record shows, and will be eager to finally play against a weaker side again.
Basingstoke may have taken the points in their first meeting, and the Buffalo do have home ice in this one, but if Swindon haven’t lost their magic after some tough outings against the former South 1 sides, the Wildcats may be adding another two points to their tally on Saturday.
Don’s Prediction: Basingstoke 5-7 Swindon
Laurence’s Prediction: Basingstoke 6-3 Swindon
Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Haringey Huskies
When these two sides met back in October at Alexandra Palace, the Phantoms were in the midst of a seven game winning streak, and hammered the Huskies 13-2. Now the two sides meet again three months later, with Peterborough having lost six of their last ten games.
The Phantoms (11 wins/6 regulation losses, 22 points) may have lost six of their last ten, but all six of those defeats were to sides that dropped down from NIHL1 in the summer. Against the “classic” NIHL2 sides, they have still been unbeatable. They showed that last weekend as they bounced back from defeat to Bracknell with a comfortable 8-1 victory over Invicta. The goal scoring was shared between seven different players in that one, with only Conor Pollard netting twice. The Phantoms, currently sitting fourth in the standings, will be keen to stay where they are and secure a top four finish in the league, so will need to keep winning games like these if they wish to keep the likes of Guildford and Chelmsford behind.
The Huskies (8 wins/9 regulation losses, 16 points), like the Phantoms, have endured a tough schedule recently. Two weekends ago they faced both of the top two teams in the league, losing 10-5 to Bracknell and 14-0 in Oxford. In fact they have not won any of their last six games in regulation, with their only victory in that time being a narrow 6-5 overtime win against Basingstoke, and their last regulation win coming back in November. After winning the first four games of the season and looking like strong playoff contenders, the North Londoners now find themselves in the final playoff place just four points above Cardiff, having played four games more. So it is crucial for the Huskies to start winning again soon, otherwise they could be overhauled by the Welsh side.
With both sides desperate for a win to keep their respective seasons on track, this should be an entertaining encounter. But if the Phantoms play anything like how they did earlier this season in North London in the aforementioned 13-2 win, they should have far too much quality for the Huskies to handle, and should come out as comfortable winners.
Don’s Prediction: Peterborough 7-4 Haringey
Laurence’s Prediction: Peterborough 8-4 Haringey
Oxford City Stars vs Chelmsford Chieftains
Sunday’s key clash sees league leaders Oxford looking to strengthen their position at the top of the pile as they welcome a Chelmsford side that suffered its second shock defeat of the season last Saturday in Slough.
Oxford (16 wins/2 regulation losses, 32 points) have only lost two games all season, both to Bracknell, with the most recent of those defeats coming three weekends ago. The Stars have won both their games since then, thrashing Haringey 14-0 and winning 9-2 at local rivals Swindon. With Bracknell four points behind and having three games in hand, and the Solent Devils five points behind and also having three games in hand, it is imperative that the Stars keep winning in order to pile the pressure on the chasing pack. And in Czech import Kamil Kinkor, the Stars can boast the top points scorer in the league – the former Streatham, London and Bracknell forward has already racked up 28+31=59 on the season and there are still eight games to go!
Chelmsford (9 wins/4 losses, 18 points) have played fewer games than the other former NIHL1 teams, so it is harder to rate their progress. However they are nonetheless the only ex-NIHL1 side to lose twice against “classic” NIHL2 teams; their loss against Bristol in November may have been seen as a blip at the time, but they also went down 6-4 in Slough’s temporary rink last weekend – a rink in which both Oxford and Solent found a way to win, even if it wasn’t pretty. With a side made up of some NIHL1 standouts but also a lot of former Chelmsford Warriors NIHL2 players, the Chieftains seem to lack the strength in depth that Oxford, Bracknell and Solent have. It would seem that the Chieftains’ goal for the season should now be to aim for a top four placing ahead of the likes of Peterborough and Guildford – even if the club’s reputation and the expectations of the fans would suggest higher ambitions.
Oxford will be determined to win this one and heap more pressure on Solent and Bracknell below them in the table, while the Chieftains really have to win this one in order to keep any hopes of the title alive. Oxford beat Chelmsford 4-0 earlier in the season at the Riverside, and another Oxford win is to be expected here.
Don’s Prediction: Oxford 6-4 Chelmsford
Laurence’s Prediction: Oxford 9-6 Chelmsford
Solent Devils vs Bristol Pitbulls
Solent play their second home game of the weekend as they welcome the Bristol Pitbulls to the south coast. This game was originally scheduled for the 16th of December, but will now be played this Sunday.
The Devils are on a nine game winning streak – ten if they beat Cardiff on Saturday – and are playing some irresistible hockey. They have only lost twice all season – a 2-3 OT defeat in Peterborough and a 2-5 reverse at home to Chelmsford both coming back in October – but since then they have won nine on the bounce to put themselves right into title contention. And with Richard Facey, Alex Murray and Drew Campbell sitting in the top seven of the league’s point scorer list, the Devils never lack goal scoring threat.
Bristol (5 wins/8 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 11 points) have not had the best season to date, and sit in 11th place, five points outside a playoff berth. A big 3-1 win over Chelmsford aside, the Pitbulls have struggled for consistency all season long and have never won more than two games in a row. The Pitbulls are not losing many games by big margins – indeed their goal difference of -5 is far better than a host of teams around them in the table – but they need to start winning the tight games if they want to reach the top eight and therefore the playoffs.
Bristol will have to play extremely well to get something out of this game. And if Solent’s top trio of Facey, Murray and Campbell are firing on all cylinders, it could be a long night indeed for Bristol’s back line. Expect a Devils win in this one.
Don’s Prediction: Solent 8-3 Bristol
Laurence’s Prediction: Solent 6-2 Bristol
17:00 Solent Devils vs Cardiff NIHL2 Fire
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Slough Jets
18:30 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
17:30 Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms vs Haringey Huskies
18:15 Oxford City Stars vs Chelmsford Chieftains
18:30 Solent Devils vs Bristol Pitbulls
NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) Standings
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