Fans of the NIHL are in for a treat this weekend when both title races in Division One North and South will reach their climax.
Saturday in Swindon it looked like the Britton (South 1) title would be wrapped up as the Wildcats needed a point from their home game with Streatham to secure the silverware. As it was Jeremy Cornish’s men played party-poopers with a 4-3 win to prevent the Wildcats winning it on home ice.
As it was the crown was nearly won for the Wildcats across the country in Gillingham where second placed Peterborough Phantoms were down 0-4 at Invicta Dynamos with less than 16 minutes remaining.
Slava Koulikov’s men fought back for the second time in four days to level and forced overtime. Dynamos finally prevailed in sudden-death penalty shots but the point won means the title race goes on.
As it stands Swindon have 63 points to Peterborough’s 60, with each side having two games to play. The Phantoms need to finish on more points as Swindon have won the season series four wins to two and head to head is the first tie breaker.
Swindon host Bracknell Bees on Saturday while Peterborough – who have a Cup Final second leg on Wednesday to contend with first – travel to Romford. The final day’s fixtures are Peterborough v Streatham and MK v Swindon.
In the North’s Moralee Division with one weekend to play there are three teams tied on 62 points at the top of the standings.
Hull Pirates enjoyed the easier weekend with games against the division’s bottom two sides and they duly recorded a four point weekend. Sheffield Steeldogs had a Saturday off after their venue took the ice slot while Telford Tigers were winners on the road in Blackburn. Sunday’s big game was at Telford Ice Rink where the Tigers hosted Steeldogs.
As has been the norm in big games over the past few years, Sheffield’s goalie Dmitri Zimozdra was the difference maker as Tigers outshot Sheffield 48-26 but couldn’t force a win. The game was scoreless for 45 minutes before Sheffield took the lead. Telford finally found a way past Dima to equalise and then appeared to take a step towards the title as captain Jason Silverthorn netted at 57.17.
The Steeldogs, as defending league champions, would not go quietly though as a late powerplay gave them a six-on-four in the final minute as James Spurr bundled the puck home to level the game and send it to bonus hockey.
Three on three overtime was an absolute barnburner with numerous odd man rushes this way and that but the game remained tied and a shootout was needed. The goalies Sam Gospel and Zimozdra remained perfect through five shots until Nathan Salem buried the sixth shot to give Sheffield the extra point.
WHAT HAPPENS THIS WEEKEND?
So what needs to happen for the respective teams to win?
First in the South for Swindon Wildcats the target is still one point from their two games. A sell-out at the Link Centre on Saturday against Bracknell will be their first chance. Peterborough need two wins and for Swindon to fail twice.
In the North, anything can happen. Let’s remind ourselves of the tie-breakers from the NIHL Rules of Competition.
12.2. The positions of teams in league tables will be determined by the League statistician using the following primary criteria:
12.2.2. Points in games between the tied teams
12.2.3. Goal difference in games between the tied teams
12.2.4. Goals scored in games between the tied teams
12.2.5. Number of regulation wins
12.2.6. Overall goal difference
12.2.7. Overall goals scored
Currently Sheffield, Telford and Hull have 62 points from 34 games. So the next tie break is points in games between tied teams, we have a mini league of results between the top three. At the moment with games having gone to overtime it’s 8pts, 8pts and 8pts.
If either Sheffield or Hull win both games this weekend then they’re champions as Telford would lose out on head to head. If Telford win both games they need Sheffield to drop at least a point.
Currently in the individual head to heads Sheffield have the tie break over Telford and their season series is done.
With one game to play Hull have two wins to Sheffield’s one, but Pirates have a massive goal difference advantage after their 13-2 win a few weeks back. Telford lead Hull two games to one, but the OT points mean it’s four points each. Hull have a one-goal lead on the season so far 18-17.
THIS WEEK’S TITLE DECIDING FIXTURES
South 1 – Saturday: Raiders v Peterborough, Swindon v Bracknell. Sunday: Peterborough v Streatham, MK v Swindon.
North 1 – Saturday: Hull v Telford, Solway v Sheffield. Sunday: Sheffield v Hull, Telford v Solihull.