Road to the Skydome 2011 – EPL Playoff quarter final predictions

Tomorrow while the guys at The Cat’s Whiskers fanzine seem to be overly excited about something happening in Nottingham, the EPL playoff quarter finals begin. Telford and Bracknell have fallen by the wayside leaving us with the top 8 teams left as we prepare for finals weekend in Coventry. Let’s look at the runners and riders.


Manchester Phoenix vs Sheffield Steeldogs

1st: 43-8-4 88pts            8th: 15-37-2 32pts

Hockey is an odd creature, playoff hockey even more so. It’s the great thing about the sport that provided you’re not the 2010/11 Edinburgh Capitals, any team has a shot to beat any other on any given night.

There’s been tons of talk about the possibility of a Steeldogs upset in this tie. The Dogs are a much better side since Andre Payette joined as player/coach and when on their game they are a very well organised and well-drilled unit capable of winning games. With Tony Hand suspended for the 1st leg in Sheffield thanks to a 5+match high sticks penalty on Sunday, some people think the Steeldogs could be the surprise team at Coventry.

I am not one of those people. For all the heart and guts that Sheffield has, Manchester has the talent to go with it. As a team, Sheffield’s combined roster scored 353 points. Hand, Kristofferson and Huppe scored 355 points. The question in this tie is talent and whilst a nice tight local contest would be nice, I doubt it’ll happen. Bar a minor miracle or an almighty punch up between the two sides, I can only see this tie going one way.

Prediction: Manchester by 6 on aggregate, at best.


Guildford Flames vs Swindon Wildcats

2nd: 42-10-2 86pts      7th: 19-31-4 42pts

This is an odd game to predict. Remember last season when out of nowhere Swindon pulled off the massive upset against Milton Keynes and Chris Douglas was suddenly being hailed as the best goalie since sliced bread? Swindon have made some improvement as this season they were comfortably in the playoffs rather than the mad dash at the end like they had last season and do has sparks of creativity on the form of Jonas Höög. Guildford have been deadly in front of net all season thanks mainly to Nathan Rempel (who I am sorry, is still not an all-star ahead of Kubenko and you won’t convince me otherwise) and Lukas Smital. However rumours out of Surrey are that Smital has been suspended by the team which takes out a massive amount of fire power. It allows the talismanic fan favourite Milos Melicherik to ice but he’s not the man of 5 years ago.

Ultimately for me this is two teams who play brands of hockey I find rather dull. You can’t count Swindon out after they masterminded a win last season but it’s hard to bet against Guildford and the depth that they have compared to Swindon.

Prediction: Flames take the tie by 4 on aggregate


Slough Jets vs Peterborough Phantoms

3rd: 40-13-0 81pts   6th: 26-20-6 61pts

These two sides met earlier in the season in a game that was abandoned after 40 mins due to the ice. Both teams were awarded 2 points as a result. Hopefully no ice problems will befall this tie as this tie looks to be a real humdinger for the neutral. Both teams when they want to can rack up the goals and be physical (and whatever you call the Greeners’ style of play) when needed.

Slough have been on a rampage since they added Adam Calder though they can at times be a bit hard to read. While at times it seems like they’re on the back foot they’re actually playing possum and can then strike on the counter attack. Both Steve Moria and Nicky Chinn though the Bison were the better side in the EPL cup final yet lost by 3 goals on aggregate which sort of proves the point.

The Phantoms showed their mettle by not flinching in the face of the champions elect and their fans by pumping 6 goals past Manchester in what most had predicted to be the coronation of the Phoenix as EPL champions so if Curtis Cruickshank and the Phantoms come out flying, there may not be time for the Jets to react.

This game could honestly go either way and I have to confess that my heart and what I want to happen is fighting my head and what I think will happen.

Prediction: Heart wants Phantoms by 1, head thinks Slough by 2


Basingstoke Bison vs Milton Keynes Lightning

4th: 33-13-8 74pts        5th 31-21-2 64pts

So we finally get to the really important game out of the 4 and Hampshire’s finest.

I can’t be the only one who enjoys Bison vs Lightning games. I think Michael Wales and Grant McPhearson cross the line from time to time but whenever these two sides meet you are guaranteed two things; exciting hockey and a worsening cardiac condition.

Milton Keynes have stumbled somewhat this season as their early season form seemed patchy and they dropped games it seemed they should easily win. They also have not had a great run of form heading into the post season. However their attack is breathtaking to watch and the speed of their forwards can really kill teams when they get going which means they’re always a threat.

As for the Bison? We know all too well; frustrating to watch one minute, dynamic and unstoppable the next. Bison head into the post season on a 3 game winning streak, 2 of those wins against Milton Keynes with one being away and the other being last Saturday’s 4-3 win coupled with a devastatingly brilliant performance from Kubenko. The team seems to be trending upwards at the right time.

Ultimately at the moment I think Bison have the measure of the Lightning. A 10 point gap in the league cannot be ignored and after last week, you have to reckon the Slovak Machine is still in their heads a little.

Prediction: I’m going to be optimistic a bit here and say Bison by 3 across the 2 legs. If the Bison play their game, they win. It’s as simple as that.

As the hashtag on Twitter says, #BelieveintheBison


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