One of the biggest games of the NIHL South 2 season takes place on Saturday, with title chasers Bracknell and Solent facing off against each other. With league leaders Oxford having a weekend off, Saturday’s game between the Hornets and the Devils could have massive repercussions on the title picture. Bracknell are the only team to have beaten Oxford this season, completing the double over the Stars, and they lie eight points back but have five games in hand. Solent themselves are five points behind Oxford with three games in hand. So whichever team wins this game could turn out to be the Stars’ main title challenger come the end of the season.
Another big game on Saturday sees Slough, currently sitting seventh in the table, travel to Alexandra Palace to take on Haringey who lie in eighth. With ninth placed Cardiff also in action against Swindon, and only the top eight teams in the league reaching the playoffs, whoever wins this game can feel they have at least one foot in the post-season.
Basingstoke, who sit in 11th and still have an outside chance of the playoffs, are also in action on Saturday as they host a Guildford side looking to secure a top six finish. Meanwhile winless Lee Valley face fifth placed Chelmsford in back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday, while Swindon also play on Sunday as they host Bristol.
Haringey Huskies vs Slough Jets
In a game which could have huge ramifications in the playoff race, Haringey welcome in Slough as both sides look to gain the upper hand.
Haringey (9 wins/13 regulation losses, 18 points) are sitting eighth, but are level on points with Slough, who are in seventh. The Huskies currently occupy the final playoff spot, but they need only look over their collective shoulders to see Cardiff and Bristol closing in on them—and both those sides have three games in hand on Haringey. So the Huskies need to win, and keep winning in order to stay safe. Depending on other results, they can lose a game and still have a chance to make the playoffs—but they can’t lose against their rivals. This weekend against Slough, and the final weekend of the regular season at home to Cardiff, are absolutely must-wins for Haringey. Regarding form, Haringey come into Saturday’s game with a mixed bag of results from last weekend. They defeated Bristol 3-2 on Saturday, which was a huge result for the Huskies, but were crushed by Chelmsford, 11-1, on Sunday.
Slough (9 wins/13 regulation losses, 18 points) are in a slightly more enviable position than Haringey. True, they’ve played the same number of games, have the same number of points and are in just as much danger of being chased down by Cardiff and Bristol; but Slough have a much easier remaining schedule, when compared to the Huskies. The Jets have a tough home game against Bracknell, and then end the season at home against Basingstoke and away to Swindon. Those last two games are very winnable for Slough, and should they beat Haringey this weekend, they’re looking at a potential three wins from their last four, which would probably be enough to secure one of the final two playoff spots. Slough are also on a bit of a high as they head to Haringey—after losing 15-0 to Peterborough earlier in the season, last weekend the Jets turned it around at home and defeated the Phantoms 4-1.
So what’s the long and short of it? If Haringey win, the field is still very much open between the four truly competitive clubs, but Haringey will have a slight advantage over the Jets. If Slough win, they’ll be in a good position, but absolutely nothing is guaranteed. What an exciting time we live in.
Don’s Prediction: Haringey 6-7 Slough (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Haringey 4-5 Slough
Bracknell Hornets vs Solent Devils
A huge game for both title-chasing clubs takes place at the Hive on Saturday, as Bracknell and Solent face off for the first time this season. Both sides have only lost once in regulation time this season and are on 10 (Bracknell) and 14 (Solent) game winning streaks respectively. Something’s got to give…
Bracknell (17 wins/1 regulation loss, 34 points) have been impressive all season, mixing thumping wins with tight victories, always doing enough for victory except for one loss to Chelmsford back in October. The fact that they are eight points off the top of the league is misleading, as they have played a full five games less than Oxford. Bracknell came out on top in both the direct league meetings with the Stars, winning 9-6 and 5-4. A win in this game will see them close to within one point of Solent, who sit three points ahead but have played two more games. Last weekend, the Hornets beat Swindon 5-1 with five different players bagging the goals.
Solent (18 wins/1 regulation loss/1 OT loss, 37 points) have probably exceeded expectations so far this season – while they were always likely to have a strong season after dropping down from division 1, many people saw them behind the likes of Oxford, Bracknell and Chelmsford in the pecking order. The South Coast side have done a fantastic job to sit second in the league at this stage, with three games in hand on Oxford and just a five point deficit. It must be noted, however, that they have not played either Oxford or Bracknell yet. Solent’s four games against these two sides will be crucial to determining how their final league placing looks. On top form for the Devils in February were Mark Pitts (4+8=12 in three games) and Mitchell Murray (7+1=8 also in three games) as well as the usual suspects Richard Facey, Alex Murray and Drew Campbell.
This is a really hard game to call, especially as we have not seen Solent in action yet against either of the other top three sides. Given that Bracknell knocked off Oxford twice earlier in the season, we know that the Hornets can win the really big games – so this, coupled with home ice advantage, may give them the edge in this one.
Don’s Prediction: Bracknell 4-3 Solent (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Bracknell 7-5 Solent
Cardiff NIHL2 FIre vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
Cardiff continue their push for the playoffs with a must-win game at home against Swindon on Saturday.
Cardiff (8 wins/11 regulation losses, 16 points) have not played Swindon yet this season, but they will feel pretty confident coming into this game, knowing that they have home ice advantage. The Fire have only won twice in their last eight games, but that run included four games against the former South 1 clubs. Last weekend, Cardiff picked up a big win over Basingstoke, 6-3. Five players found the back of the net, with Carter-Jaice Lloyd scoring a brace, as Cardiff fired 71 shots at Buffalo netminder Aaron Craft.
Swindon (3 wins/16 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 7 points) also defeated Basingstoke for their more recent win—but that was on 27 January. Since then, the Wildcats have lost four games, although they have put together some good performances. On Sunday, they played away to Oxford City and only lost 8-6. All goals were scored by different players for Swindon, and they led 4-2 in the second period. But the Stars rallied and a shorthanded goal from Joshua Oliver in the 55th minute put Oxford in the lead, and then an empty-net goal in the final minute sealed a far-from-comfortable win for the league leaders.
So both teams come into this game with real confidence. Cardiff know they can win at home; Swindon nearly upset the Stars last week. The fact that the Fire still have something to fight for this season may give them a slight edge.
Don’s Prediction: Cardiff 5-6 Swindon
Laurence’s Prediction: Cardiff 6-4 Swindon
Basingstoke Buffalo vs Guildford Phoenix
Speaking of Basingstoke, they sit in 11th with a very slim chance to making the playoffs. But they’ll need lots of wins from their remaining five games, and will need to pick up two points on Saturday at home to Guildford
Basingstoke (5 wins/13 regulation losses/3 OT losses, 13 points) have had a tough time this season. They finally snapped their 10-game losing streak with a victory over the winless Lee Valley Lions a fortnight ago, only to return to losing ways last week against Cardiff. The Buffalo are currently five points behind Slough and Haringey for the final playoff spots, and have one game in hand—which is small consolation considering that Cardiff and Bristol are still ahead of them in the queue and have three games in hand on current holders Slough and Haringey. The good news for Basingstoke is that they still have remaining games against Slough (a must-win—for both clubs, really!), a luckless Lee Valley and Bristol. Their final game of the season is against a former South 1 club—but it’s the lower ranked of that lot, Chelmsford.
Guildford (12 wins/8 regulation losses/1 OT loss, 25 points) have just about clinched a playoff spot, despite having lost three of their last four games, with that one win coming against Swindon. Last week they hosted Chelmsford and were handed a tough 7-2 defeat. The Phoenix started brightly, as Jared Lane scored inside of two minutes to give them the lead, but Guildford didn’t score again until the third period, while the Chieftains scored regularly as they marched their way into the playoffs.
But Guildford know that they will be securing their playoff spot soon, and they also know that they can potentially go as high as third when all is said and done, even though they only sit sixth at the moment. Look for the Phoenix to play positively against Basingstoke and take the two points—although you never know, since the Buffalo won 5-4 when the two sides met back in October.
Don’s Prediction: Basingstoke 3-8 Guildford
Laurence’s Prediction: Basingstoke 2-5 Guildford
Lee Valley Lions vs Chelmsford Chieftains
The only winless team left in division 2 welcomes a team on a five game winning streak on Saturday as Lee Valley host Chelmsford at The Den.
The Lions (16 regulation losses/3 OT losses, 3 points) did not play last weekend, but on the weekend before that they took a tough 5-2 away loss to Basingstoke. Despite dominating the final period, the Lions could not score more than two goals and Basingstoke sealed the win with an empty netter. This weekend will be tough for the Lions with back to back games against a Chelmsford side that finally seems to be hitting top form. Lee Valley will need to be solid at the back and more ruthless going forward if they want to be in with a chance of taking something from either of these games.
The Chieftains (14 wins/5 regulation losses, 28 points) have won their last five and are finally showing the kind of form a lot of people expected from them all season long. The dangerous duo of twins Grant (10+15=25) and Cameron (10+8=18) Bartlett scored a combined 43 points in the Chieftains’ five February games, and will be very hard to stop as always. At the other end of the ice, the Chieftains only let in 11 goals in those five games and in Sonny Phillips possess one of the best netminders in the league.
While the Lions will hope to use home ice to their advantage in this one, it will be pretty difficult for them to get anything out of this game against a fired-up Chieftains side, who will want to secure fourth place in the league and could still challenge for a top three spot if they continue their recent form.
Don’s Prediction: Lee Valley 1-6 Chelmsford
Laurence’s Prediction: Lee Valley 3-8 Chelmsford
Chelmsford Chieftains vs Lee Valley Lions
Unusually, Chelmsford and Lee Valley face off again 24 hours later, this time at the Riverside, in a game that was rescheduled from December due to snowy conditions causing the game to be called off.
With the snow currently falling up and down the country, we just hope the game isn’t called off again and that it can go ahead.
Most of what was written in Saturday’s preview also applies to this game – the Chieftains will look to get big scoring from the Bartlett twins as always, as well as from the likes of import forward Michal Oravec. Meanwhile the Lions will need to be tight in defence and have more of a cutting edge up front – if they are to take anything from either of the games, they will need the likes of Nick Alley, Matt Brown and Ross Sin-Hidge to score big.
While we can expect the Lions to work hard as always, this game should be even tougher for them than the previous night’s encounter, with it being the second game in as many days and being an away game too. Regardless of the previous night’s result, we can probably expect a Chieftains win here.
Don’s Prediction: Chelmsford 8-2 Lee Valley
Laurence’s Prediction: Chelmsford 10-3 Lee Valley
Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Bristol Pitbulls
Swindon hit the ice for the second time over the weekend as they welcome in playoff contenders Bristol.
The Wildcats will have just played what promises to be a hard game against Cardiff, and this matchup against Bristol doesn’t look to be much easier. The two teams met a month ago, and the Pittbulls were 9-1 winners, but of course that was once home ice for Bristol. Swindon may have a better chance in this game.
Bristol (7 wins/12 regulation losses, 14 points) are looking to move on from a disappointing result last weekend against Haringey, which was won by the Huskies, 3-2. Bristol outshot Haringey, complied fewer penalty minutes and led 1-0 well into the second period; but unlike most hockey games, this was a game of two halves. Haringey equalised in the 29th minute and went on to take a 3-1 lead. Bristol pulled one back late but couldn’t complete the comeback. It was a significant result—a win for the Pitbulls would have put Haringey, Bristol and Cardiff all level on points. But it was not to be for Bristol.
They’ll want to change their fortunes this weekend. It’s imperative that they win against Swindon if they’re going to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Don’s Prediction: Swindon 4-6 Bristol
Laurence’s Prediction: Swindon 3-5 Bristol
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Slough Jets
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Chelmsford Chieftains
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Solent Devils
18:30 Cardiff NIHL2 Fire vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
18:30 Basingstoke Buffalo vs Guildford Phoenix
18:30 Chelmsford Chieftains vs Lee Valley Lions
19:45 Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats vs Bristol Pitbulls
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.
482days Expert Prediction Competition (after Sunday 25th February)
Our experts get 1 point for every correct result, and 3 points if they predict the exact score. (Although as they say: prediction is a mug’s game…)