The final weekend of NIHL South 2 league action is upon us, with five league games on the schedule. The battles for second and third in the league, and for the final playoff spot, are both wide open – so it promises to be an exciting weekend of action.
Three games are scheduled for Saturday. The Solent Devils, currently second in the league, host champions Oxford in a big tie. Another important game sees third placed Bracknell welcoming eighth placed Bristol – who are hoping to cement a place in the playoffs – to the Hive. And yet another game with big playoff implications takes place in North London as Haringey in ninth welcome Cardiff who currently sit in 10th. One additional game was scheduled between winless Lee Valley and the Swindon Wildcats, but the Wildcats are not travelling and the Lions have been awarded the game 5-0.
Following the news that Chelmsford have also been awarded a 5-0 win, this time against Basingstoke as the Buffalo could not raise a team, Sunday now has just two games scheduled. Cardiff will look to seal a place in the playoffs as they welcome Swindon, while Lee Valley will hope to take their last chance to win a game this season, as they play against the Invicta Mustangs. The game planned for Sunday between Peterborough and Bristol has been awarded as 0-0, with each side gaining a point.
There is one more game scheduled for Sunday however – the NIHL2 Championship Game between the Oxford City Stars, champions of South 2, and their equivalents from the North, the Sutton Sting. The game will take place in Coventry as part of the NIHL1 Finals Weekend.
Solent Devils vs Oxford City Stars
A few weekends ago, it looked like the league title race may come down to this game as these two sides were locked in a title battle. However it was not to be – Oxford have already clinched the league title. This game is still a crucial one for Solent though, as they look to secure second place in the league – and they will do this with a win.
Solent (21 wins/1 OT loss/3 regulation losses, 43 points) have had an impressive season, staying in the title hunt for a long time until faltering towards the end of the campaign. Two losses in their last five games, away to title rivals Bracknell and Oxford, killed their title chances; but a big 8-2 home win over Bracknell a few weeks ago means Solent’s destiny is in their own hands. Win on Saturday, and the runners-up spot will belong to the Gosport-based side. That will be no easy task, but with the likes of Richard Facey – who has dominated league scoring this season with 42+41=83 in just 25 games(!) – as well as player-coach Alex Murray (20+46=66) and Canadian import Drew Campbell (26+31=57), the Devils have three of the league’s top six scorers, and are in the hunt to win every single game.
Oxford (23 wins/2 regulation losses, 46 points) clinched the league crown two weekends ago with the aforementioned home win over the Devils, after a season in which they have only lost two games and have scored by far the most goals of anyone. 223 goals in 25 games is a hefty number, and the City Stars were deserving league champions on the balance of the season. Still, they have two more pieces of silverware to win yet – the NIHL2 Championship game against Sutton on Sunday, and the playoffs which start next weekend. A reminder: only the team that wins the playoff title will be promoted to NIHL South 1. So as nice as the league title is, the Stars still have a lot left to achieve before they can call this a perfect season.
Solent will be desperate to win this game and secure second in the league, while Oxford may look to conserve some energy for the game in Coventry the next day, which faces off just 20 hours after this one. The Devils are also very hard to beat at home – they have lost just once in Gosport all season – so a Solent win is perhaps the most likely result here.
Don’s Prediction: Solent 3-4 Oxford (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Solent 6-4 Oxford
Haringey Huskies vs Cardiff NIHL2 Fire
One playoff spot it still up for grabs, with three teams fighting for it. Two of them—Haringey and Cardiff—will meet on Saturday at the Alexandra Palace.
Haringey (9 wins/1 OT loss/15 regulation losses, 19 points) have been sitting in the coveted eighth-place position for seemingly ages now, but it’s not about where you’ve been—it’s all about where you are when the season ends. That eighth place was taken away from them on Friday as Bristol were awarded a point for their abandoned fixture against Peterborough. The Huskies are now one point behind Bristol and one ahead of Cardiff, with the latter having two games to play while both the Huskies and Pitbulls have just the one fixture remaining. The Huskies come into the weekend with a four-game losing streak; however those games were against some tough opponents.
Cardiff (9 wins/15 regulation losses, 18 points) know that if they win this game, they can knock Haringey out of competition, but the sword cuts both ways. If the Fire leave the Ally Pally pointless, they can start planning for next season, regardless of what happens on Sunday in their game against Swindon.
Last time Haringey and Cardiff met was in South Wales in early April, and although Haringey had a fast start, scoring twice in the first period, the Fire rallied to win 3-2. This could be another close one, as both teams will really be going for it.
Don’s Prediction: Haringey 4-5 Cardiff (OT)
Laurence’s Prediction: Haringey 5-4 Cardiff (OT)
Bracknell Hornets vs Bristol Pitbulls
Another important matchup takes place in Bracknell as the season draws to a close. The Hornets need a mammoth win to send them into the playoffs with some momentum, and Bristol are trying hard to make the playoffs.
Bracknell (21 wins/1 OT loss/3 regulation losses, 43 points) have been poor over the last month. Sorry Hornets fans, but we must be blunt. Losing to Peterborough might be excusable, but the Hornets were thrashed by Solent and upset by Slough. A big win over Invicta was nice, but narrow home wins over Chelmsford and Cardiff don’t exactly fill us with confident here at 482days. For a team in third that has been amazing all season, this is a rather lacklustre finish to the season.
Bristol (9 wins/1 OT loss/14 regulation losses/1 game awarded 0-0, 20 points) have pulled themselves back into contention for a playoff place, but they need to take an upset win against Bracknell to guarantee the last playoff spot ahead of Haringey and Cardiff. Their other planned fixture against Peterborough has been awarded 0-0, with the Pitbulls gaining one point that puts them eighth coming into the weekend, but that place is not secure with Haringey and Cardiff both still in contention. So this is a big game for Bristol as they look to cement a post-season place.
Bracknell visited Bristol on 18 February and left with a 9-5 win. Although the Hornets have been off the boil recently, and the Pitbulls will be fighting hard for the upset, it’s hard to see the Hornets losing this one.
Don’s Prediction: Bracknell 8-5 Bristol
Laurence’s Prediction: Bracknell 6-3 Bristol
Sutton Sting vs Oxford City Stars
(NIHL2 Championship Game in Coventry)
As part of the NIHL1 Finals Weekend in Coventry, the NIHL South 2 champions Oxford will square off against the NIHL North 2 winners Sutton in a one-off NIHL2 Championship Game. It will have no bearing on which teams are promoted in their respective leagues, but it will nonetheless be fascinating to see how the champions of the two leagues stack up against each other. And who doesn’t want another shiny bit of silverware to add to the collection?
Sutton (NIHL N2 Record: 28 wins/3 OT losses/5 regulation losses, 59 points) are a new team to us here in the South, but a glance at their season suggests that they were worthy champions – they took the North 2 title by seven points ahead of Widnes, losing only five games in regulation all season (Widnes lost nine). They also had the fewest penalty minutes in the league with an average of just 13.75 per game, showing that discipline can be a big part of winning championships. They were not huge goalscorers, scoring only the joint-fourth highest number of goals, but relied on a strong defence as well as goaltender Warren Gilfoyle who impressed with a 90.27% save percentage and four shutouts. Scoring-wise, their top two forwards were Joseph Colton and Scott Morris, who both bagged 30 goals as they helped the Sting to the league title.
Oxford, on the other hand, have scored the most goals in NIHL South 2 by some distance – netting 42 more times than the next best team Chelmsford in the same number of completed games. Oxford’s main scoring threat for most of the season was import forward Kamil Kinkor, who bagged 38 + 37 = 75 in 23 games before leaving the side recently due to family and work commitments. However they have great depth in their forward ranks, with Josh Oliver also hitting the 30 goal mark and both Joe Edwards and Michael Whillock scoring more than 20 goals. A big (literally) mention has to also go out to giant defenceman Dom Hopkins, who has scored 44 points from the blueline this season but has also been a rock at the back. Goaltending-wise, young Hungarian netminder Milan Ronai has impressed with a 91.25% save percentage and four shutouts, while Mark Duffy has claimed two shutouts of his own and stopped 90.72% of the shots he has faced.
This is a truly fascinating game of ice hockey between two sides that have not faced each other all season long. Thus it is very hard to predict how it will go. Oxford’s better goalscoring record – 8.92 goals a game as compared to Sutton’s 6.05 per game – could be a key factor here, with the Stars perhaps slight favourites.
Don’s Prediction: Sutton 4-6 Oxford
Laurence’s Prediction: Sutton 4-6 Oxford
Lee Valley Lions vs Invicta Mustangs
Lee Valley and Invicta finish their seasons on Sunday as the Mustangs travel to the Den. The last time these two sides met, the Mustangs came out of it with a narrow OT win in Kent back in November.
The Lions (3 OT losses/20 regulation losses/1 game awarded 5-0/1 game awarded 0-0) had hoped for two chances to get an elusive win this weekend, but Swindon forfeited Saturday’s game which leaves the East London side with just one opportunity to do it, against Invicta. The Lions have scored the least amount of goals of any team in the league with 63, with the next-lowest mark being Invicta’s 69. Matt Brown has been on fire for the Lions recently however, netting 5+3=8 in their last seven games. If he can continue that strong form in this game and get a few more goals, he could lead the Lions to victory.
Invicta (6 wins/1 OT loss/18 regulation losses, 13 points) have struggled to adapt to the new-look NIHL South 2 this season, winning just six times and never being able to string together two wins on the bounce. They have also been involved in a couple of controversial games full of penalty minutes. Not a single Mustangs player has hit either 10 goals or 20 points on the season, the closest to both marks being Bradley Gutridge with 9+8=17 – the Lions meanwhile have captain Nick Alley on 17+5=22, and the aforementioned Brown who has scored 10+9=19 thus far. The Mustangs will have to defend well against a fired-up Lions side if they want to win this game, given their lack of goalscoring threat.
All signs point towards this game being a close low-scorer, and yet again it is a hard one to predict. If the Lions offence can fire and they can score more than a couple of goals, that could be the key to them beating the Mustangs in this game and finally winning a game this season at the final attempt.
Don’s Prediction: Lee Valley 4-3 Invicta
Laurence’s Prediction: Lee Valley 5-3 Invicta
Cardiff NIHL2 Fire vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
Cardiff return to action on Sunday at home against Swindon in the final game of the regular season.
If Cardiff win on Saturday, a victory in this game could ensure them a place in the playoffs, although, with Bristol and Peterborough not being able to fit their fixture in, then the Fire don’t necessarily have to win against the Wildcats, provided as well that Bristol don’t upset Bracknell on Saturday. Confused? Good, mission accomplished. Basically, by Sunday evening at the latest we’ll know who has taken the eighth playoff spot.
Swindon were originally also going to be playing for the second time this weekend, but forfeited their planned fixture at Lee Valley on Saturday. There wasn’t much left for Swindon to play for, except 11th place. A four-point weekend would have allowed them to leapfrog over Basingstoke, but they now cannot achieve that, although they will still aim to finish 12th ahead of Invicta. That wouldn’t be a bad result for a team that lost their first 10 games. The Wildcats have won three of four heading into this weekend and they’d love to end the season on a high note, to give them momentum going into the offseason preparation for next season.
So how is Sunday’s game going to end? Well, Cardiff won 2-1 in Swindon just a fortnight ago—they could sneak away with another victory here, but don’t count out the Wildcats.
Don’s Prediction: Cardiff 4-2 Swindon
Laurence’s Prediction: Cardiff 5-2 Swindon
17:00 Solent Devils vs Oxford City Stars
17:30 Haringey Huskies vs Cardiff NIHL2 Fire
18:00 Bracknell Hornets vs Bristol Pitbulls
13:00 Sutton Sting vs Oxford City Stars (NIHL2 Championship Game in Coventry)
17:30 Lee Valley Lions vs Invicta Mustangs
18:00 Cardiff NIHL2 Fire vs Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats
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!
482days Expert Prediction Competition (after Sunday 1st April)
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