The action in NIHL South 2 is really starting to heat up – especially at the sharp end where the title looks to be a three-way fight between Oxford, Solent and Bracknell. And with league leaders Oxford not playing this weekend, it presents a golden opportunity for the Devils and Hornets to close the gap.
Solent play on Saturday, hosting this season’s surprise package Guildford, who are fifth in the league having only joined in the summer. Also playing on Saturday are Bracknell, who travel to Kent to take on the Invicta Mustangs, while Bristol welcome the Lee Valley Lions.
Guildford are in action again on Sunday, this time hosting Peterborough in a battle over fourth place in the league. Chelmsford look to leave last weekend’s big 11-4 defeat to Oxford behind as they play host to Basingstoke, while Haringey make the long trip to Wales to face the Cardiff Fire.
Bristol Pitbulls vs Lee Valley Lions
Saturday’s game in Oxford promises to be an interesting one, as 11th place Bristol Pitbulls welcome winless Lee Valley to their temporary home on Oxpens Road.
Bristol (5 wins/9 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 11 points) have struggled for consistency this season, and find themselves three points outside the playoff places. The Pitbulls have kept the exact same roster as last season, only making the addition of Jack Clark from Swindon last week, but that hasn’t translated to results thus far as sides like Invicta, Cardiff, Haringey and Slough – who Bristol were perhaps expected to be ahead of – have all managed to jump ahead of them in the table. The Pitbulls went down 6-3 in Gosport last Sunday to the Solent Devils, but can take heart from the fact that the scoreline was rather close – a lot of other sides have lost by a lot more goals than that in Gosport this season.
Lee Valley (13 regulation losses/3 OT losses, 3 points) are still searching for their first win of the season, but their last game two weeks ago was very promising. They took the Slough Jets, who were fresh off a confidence-boosting win over Chelmsford the previous night, to overtime before going down 3-2. Nonetheless the East London side gained a point from the OT loss – their third such point of the season – while young defenceman Daniel Tamasauskas scored his first senior goal for the Lions. They also welcomed back forward Tom Hurley after almost two months out injured, and were able to ice their biggest bench of the season. If the Lions can keep a healthy roster together for the rest of the season, a win should definitely be on the cards in the not too distant future.
But it is questionable whether that win will come in this particular game. The Lions went down 11-1 to the same opposition at home back in November and, while the scoreline likely won’t be as heavy this time around, the Pitbulls are still favourites to take the win.
Don’s Prediction: Bristol 6-4 Lee Valley
Laurence’s Prediction: Bristol 5-2 Lee Valley
Invicta Mustangs vs Bracknell Hornets
After nearly three weeks off, Bracknell are back in action on Saturday, and they will travel to Kent to play Invicta, one of a group to teams trying hard to move into the playoff places.
Invicta (5 wins/13 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 11 points) have had a mediocre season, scattering five wins quite evenly throughout the season, although they have done slightly better in the last two months. Seventh-placed Slough are the highest ranked team they have defeated, but the Mustangs still find themselves in decent position with seven games remaining, as they are just three points back of Haringey, who occupy the final playoff spot. The bad news for Invicta? The four sides below them and the two clubs above them all have multiple games in hand. What’s worse for the Mustangs is that of their final seven games, two are against Bracknell, one is against Oxford City and another is against Chelmsford.
Bracknell (14 wins/1 regulation loss, 28 points) are looking at their future with a much cheerier disposition than this weekend’s opponents are. The Hornets are three points behind Solent with two games in hand, and six points back of league-leader Oxford City with a mouth-watering four games securely in their pocket. The key for Bracknell will be to make those extra games turn into points. They have a five-game winning streak and they’ll want to keep that run going as they start a three-game road trip against Invicta, Bristol and Swindon. Because after that, they host Solent on 3 March—and then play them away just three weeks later.
The Hornets are in good shape to challenge for at least second, if not first place in the league. But they can’t afford to be upset by any of the lower clubs, like Invicta.
Don’s Prediction: Invicta 2-9 Bracknell
Laurence’s Prediction: Invicta 3-9 Bracknell
Solent Devils vs Guildford Phoenix
Solent and Guildford clash in a battle between two sides who have cemented their places near the top of the table—but both will be eager to climb even higher as the season wears on.
Solent (15 wins/1 regulation loss/1 OT loss, 31 points), the home side in this fixture, are rapidly gaining on league leaders Oxford City, sitting just three points behind the Stars with two games in hand. Solent’s win streak has hit 11 games and they’re looking unstoppable, but their schedule the rest of the way isn’t going to be easy and leads up to a pair of clashes against Oxford to finish the season. In order to keep pace, a win on Saturday is a must.
Guildford (11 wins/5 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 23 points) have been brilliantly successful in their first season, currently sitting fifth in the table, one point back of Peterborough in fourth. Last weekend the Phoenix put a stop to Slough’s run of good form with a dominant 9-2 victory, and that followed up wins over Lee Valley and Cardiff which forms their three-game winning streak. But one thing has hampered Guildford this season, which is their inability to defeat the former South 1 sides. In five attempts so far this season, they’ve lost all five times, although they have come very close in several games. They’ve never faced Solent, and they’ll need to turn around their form against the big clubs in order to maintain the fight for fourth—or higher.
Solent will be favourites in this game, but don’t count out the Phoenix. One thing Guildford must make sure is that they concentrate on the task at hand, and don’t get overwhelmed by the prospect of having to host Peterborough just 24 hours later…
Don’s Prediction: Solent 6-3 Guildford
Laurence’s Prediction: Solent 6-4 Guildford
Guildford Phoenix vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
Regardless of the result between Guildford and Solent, Sunday’s matchup between the Phoenix and Peterborough will be a 4th-versus-5th clash—it’s just a question of who will be in which place by the time the puck drops.
Guildford and Peterborough (12 wins/6 regulation losses, 24 points) have yet to meet this season, and rather like the Phoenix, the Phantoms have had bad times against the ex-South 1 clubs, winning just once in seven attempts. Peterborough have also been mired in a slump for some time. After winning their first seven games, they lost five of their next nine. But things have turned around in the last few weeks. The Phantoms finally put together a winning streak again, knocking off Invicta 8-1 on the 20th and then last Sunday, they cruised to a 10-2 win over Haringey. And Peterborough will be pleased with Conor Pollard’s performances—he notched 5+5 across those two games, which takes him to 35 points overall in 17 games.
A further note on Guildford–we should see their new signing at some point over the weekend. The Phoenix brought in forward Jared Lane with their final signing of the season. Lane, a former junior for Guildford who put up 127 points in five years, played for the Guildford Flames and then most recently the Bracknell Bees of South 1. The 19-year-old should add a further spark to the offence as Guildford push towards the higher placings in the league.
Sunday’s game should be a good one. A consistent Guildford club against a Peterborough side that is finding its footing again. Guildford’s fatigue after Saturday’s huge game against Solent could go a long way in deciding this one.
Don’s Prediction: Guildford 7-9 Peterborough
Laurence’s Prediction: Guildford 4-5 Peterborough (OT)
Cardiff NIHL2 Fire vs Haringey Huskies
A direct duel between two playoff aspirants takes place in South Wales on Sunday afternoon, as eighth place Haringey make the trip to take on ninth place Cardiff. Four points separate the sides, but the Fire have four games in hand, so if they win this game they will be in pole position to jump into eighth place in the coming weeks.
Cardiff (6 wins/8 regulation losses, 12 points) have lost their last three games after starting the season with a 6-5 record; but two of those losses were to top-five teams in Guildford and Solent. The Fire may be a mostly young side, but they are not short of talent and also have some strong veterans on the team. And they will be pushing hard to secure a playoff berth in the tightly-packed midfield. Rhys Harding has been their standout forward so far this season with 15 goals in just 12 matches, while Slovak veteran Robert Sedlak is always dangerous and has 11 goals of his own in 11 games.
The Huskies (8 wins/10 regulation losses, 16 points) are also on a negative run, having lost their last four successive games, having conceding 10+ goals in each of the last three. That being said, those three games were against top sides Bracknell, Oxford and Peterborough. The game in Cardiff sees the North London side taking on a team more at their level, and it should be an interesting encounter. Huskies captain Ben Osborne was on form in January as he netted five goals in five games, while Sam Roberts has returned to Haringey after two and a half seasons in NIHL1 with the Raiders, scoring 1+2 in his two games to date.
This should be an interesting encounter and it could be decided by fine margins. The Fire are generally strong at home though, and they may just have the edge in this one.
Don’s Prediction: Cardiff 4-3 Haringey
Laurence’s Prediction: Cardiff 6-3 Haringey
Chelmsford Chieftains vs Basingstoke Buffalo
After three losses in their last four games, the Chieftains look to regain some confidence as they welcome 12th place side Basingstoke to the Riverside.
Chelmsford (9 wins/5 regulation losses, 18 points) were expected by many to challenge for the NIHL South 2 title this season, after being the dominant side in South 1 for the last five years. But their title challenge looks well and truly derailed after their 11-4 thrashing at the hands of leaders Oxford last weekend, which was already Chelmsford’s fifth loss in 14 games played. By way of comparison, the other three sides that dropped down from NIHL1 only have five losses in total between them. Chelmsford now look to be in a three way fight for fourth place with Guildford and Peterborough, so will need to win games against lower level opponents in order to keep up that fight.
The Buffalo (4 wins/9 regulation losses/2 OT losses, 10 points) have lost their last seven straight, with their last win coming in Swindon on the 11th of November. Last weekend the Buffalo welcomed the same opposition to Basingstoke, with the Wildcats this time skating off with a 6-4 victory. Buffalo import Blair Dubyk was once again the standout player in the loss, netting twice and registering two assists as he was directly involved in all four of Basingstoke’s goals. The Hampshire side need to get scoring from more players if they are to successfully challenge for a playoff berth, which they are currently six points away from.
Despite Chelmsford’s recent poor form, the likes of import Michal Oravec and the Bartlett twins Grant and Cameron should be too much for Basingstoke in this game. Expect a Chelmsford win, although given their surprising defeats to both Bristol and Slough this season, you never quite know how this one will pan out…
Don’s Prediction: Chelmsford 5-3 Basingstoke
Laurence’s Prediction: Chelmsford 9-2 Basingstoke
17:00 Solent Devils vs Guildford Phoenix
17:00 Bristol Pitbulls vs Lee Valley Lions
17:15 Invicta Mustangs vs Bracknell Hornets
14:45 Cardiff NIHL2 Fire vs Haringey Huskies
17:30 Guildford Phoenix vs Peterborough NIHL2 Phantoms
18:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Basingstoke Buffalo
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.
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