In-depth | NIHL Final Four preview

After a long season of teams fighting to secure their place in the play-off groups, it all comes down to one final weekend as we see four teams battle it out in their efforts to be crowned play-off champions.

Frankie Notaro takes an in-depth look at what to expect this weekend…

Semi-final 1: Leeds Knights vs Swindon Wildcats

For the first semi-final of the weekend, we see the Leeds Knights take on Swindon Wildcats at 1:30pm on Saturday. 

The two sides have faced each other five times over the course of the 2023/24 season, and in the series between the Leeds Knights and Swindon Wildcats, the Knights have been able to come away from three out of the five games with the two points, whereas the Wildcats have been able to take the two points off of the league champions in two games this season.

Leeds were able to get 16 pucks to the back of Swindon’s netminding duo, while Swindon were very close with only one goal separating the teams – the Wildcats able to score 15 goals against the Knights this season.  

Leeds Knights: The stats 

The Knights’ play-off campaign was very successful, and they finished their six games at the top of group A.

They were able to win five out of their six games, the only defeat being a penalty shoot-out loss to Peterborough Phantoms. Leeds won both of their games against the Hull Seahawks, with an 8-3 victory at Planet Ice Leeds and then a 6-3 win in Hull. When they faced Peterborough Phantoms, the Knights suffered a penalty shoot-out loss but then were able to get a 4-2 win on home ice.

To finish off their play-off fixtures, they welcomed Bees IHC. The Knights skated away with another four points after a 7-3 victory on home ice and then a 5-3 win on the road at the Slough Ice Arena.  

The Knights’ powerplay unit during their play-off campaign has been 42.11% effective, capitalising on eight out of 19 extra skater advantages in the six games completed, compared to their powerplay during the season which was 26.13% effective after being able to successfully use 52 out of 199 man advantages. 

During the six games completed to make it to Coventry, a stand-out player that Swindon will need to be cautious about is Matthew Barron, especially whilst the Knights are on the powerplay. He has been able to convert three powerplay chances into a powerplay goal as well as receiving two assists when Leeds have found themselves with an extra skater. 

The penalty kill that Leeds have been utilising during the play-offs has been 77.78% effective. They have been able to see it through without conceding a goal 14 out of 18 times where they have found themselves short-handed. However, they have not been unable to score any short-handed goals during the six games, compared to the 20 short-handed goals scored by the Knights players during the season. 

Leeds only faced 168 shots on goal during the play-off group stages and the netminders were facing an average of 28 shots on goal per game. Conversely, the Knights had 219 shots on goal against the three other teams they faced and were firing around 37 shots on goal per game. 

Leeds Knights: Ones to watch 

Going into this fixture, the key players that the Swindon Wildcats will have to keep a close eye on are Kieran Brown and Jake Witkowski.

During the Knights’ season, Kieran Brown has definitely made his presence felt by teams across the league, from being the top point scorer at Leeds to scoring the most powerplay and short-handed goals for the Knights throughout the season.

During the 52 games he completed for the Knights, Brown managed to collect 122 points from 61 goals and 61 assists, and in terms of making an impact on games, Brown was able to score 11 game-winning goals for the Knights as they chased the league title to remain league champions for the second year in a row.  

Jake Witkowski had a great three weeks of games in Leeds’ effort to make it to the Final Four. He came out the Knight’s top point scorer after he secured 12 points in six games through scoring five goals and seven assists. He managed to secure a hat -rick last weekend against Bees IHC at Planet Ice Leeds to see the Knights confirm their place at Coventry this weekend.  

At the same time, Witkowski did not pick up any penalty minutes and scored both a powerplay goal and a game-winning goal. Witkowski joined Leeds late in the season and only completed 21 games for the team, but in those games he secured 14 goals and 27 assists to total 41 points, while picking up five powerplay goals and one short-handed goal.

His influence on the Knights’ semi-final game this weekend could be the key for Leeds to go the whole way and defend their crown as play-off champions.

Swindon Wildcats: The stats 

The Swindon Wildcats have experienced a season of turmoil due to a flood that affected their rink and were unable to play at home for a few months.

The team were able to recover from this, however, and have been filling the rink since. The Wildcats finished second in Group B as they were able to win three of their six games, losing two games in regulation and suffering an overtime loss, but finished the series with seven points.  

The Wildcats won one game against MK Lightning with a 3-2 victory at home after overtime, then made the trip to Planet Ice Milton Keynes and won by the same scoreline little over 24 hours later. Swindon then faced Raiders IHC and found themselves skating away from the double-header with only one point after a 2-3 loss at home and then a 6-5 loss after a penalty shoot-out.

Finally, the Wildcats faced the Tigers and managed a 6-1 victory on home ice before making the trip to Telford, where they suffered a 9-3 loss to see the Tigers also qualify for the Final Four. 

The Wildcats’ powerplay unit during their six-game series has been 22.22% effective, as they were only able to capitalise on four out of 18 man advantages. This is compared to their powerplay percentage of 30% during the season, as they scored on 63 out of 210 chances.

During the play-off series, Gael Lubwele scored the most powerplay goals for Swindon with two. However, during the season, Tomasz Malaskinski’s 12 powerplay goals aided him in becoming Swindon’s top point scorer, as he tallied up 101 points from 40 goals and 61 assists.  

Swindon’s penalty kill during the play-off series has been 80% effective, as they have favourably seen through 16 out of 20 instances where they have found themselves in the penalty box. This is overall consistent with their penalty kill during the 2023/24 season that was 79.50% effective, as they kept the opposing team from scoring 159 out of 200 times short-handed. The Wildcats were even able to get a short-handed goal during the play-off group stages, which was scored by Gael Lubwele.  

Swindon faced 183 shots on goal during the play-off group stages, and the Wildcats’ netminders faced an average of 31 shots on goal per game. In contrast, the Wildcats had 184 shots on goal against the three other teams they faced, firing an average of 31 shots on goal per game. 

Swindon Wildcats: Ones to watch 

Coming into this semi-final fixture, the key players that the Knights will need to keep a close eye on are Gael Lubwele and Edgars Bebris.

In the last six games, Gael Lubwele has been able to collect seven points from five goals and two assists, with two goals being from powerplay chances and one goal coming from a short-handed opportunity.

Throughout the season, Lubwele has proven himself to be a key part of the Wildcats’ offensive output and will take advantage of any mistakes made by the opposing teams, which the Knights will need to try and limit during the game. In the regular season, he was able to pick up 58 points from 34 goals and 24 assists, but also faced 67 penalty minutes. Despite Swindon’s strong penalty kill, he will need to try to stay out of the box in the semi-final.  

Edgars Bebris will be a key part of Swindon’s defensive corps during the game, playing the role of an offensive defenseman as we have seen him excel in all year for the Wildcats. In the last six games of the group stages, Bebris has been able to pick up seven points from two goals and five assists, with two of his assists coming from powerplay chances. He has been a big reason behind Swindon’s ability to create chances in all their games, as during the season he picked up six assists from the powerplay and three assists from short-handed chances.

He will be a crucial player for Leeds to try and keep under control and limit his possession of the puck.  

Semi-final 1: Telford Tigers vs Peterborough Phantoms

For the second semi-final of the weekend, Telford Tigers face Peterborough Phantoms at 5:30pm for the chance to make the final on the Sunday afternoon.   

During the 2023/24 season, the Phantoms and Tigers faced each other five times, and out of those five fixtures the Phantoms were able to take the two points away from the Tigers in four of the games.

But in the last meeting between the sides, the Tigers skated away with the two points.  

Telford Tigers: The stats 

Telford’s play-off campaign was eventful, topping their play-off group after beginning the six-game series with a four-point weekend against Raiders IHC.

They earned a 7-5 win away for their first game and then had a 3-2 victory on home ice. The weekend after, they faced MK Lightning and earned a 6-3 win in their first game away but suffered a 4-1 loss on the Sunday on home ice. Then to finish their play-off campaign, the Tigers faced Swindon Wildcats in an attempt to secure their place in this weekend’s semi-finals. They first suffered a 6-1 loss against the Wildcats then won 9-3 at home last Sunday to qualify for the final four.  

The Tigers’ powerplay unit during the play-off group stages has been 44.44% effective, as they have been able to productively use eight out of their 18 man advantages. This compares to during the season when their powerplay was 25.82% effective after they were able to use 55 out of the 213 chances on the powerplay. When the Tigers have been on the power play in the play-offs, Finley Howells was able to score the most powerplay goals for the Tigers with three goals, adding one assist.  

Telford’s penalty kill lines during the group stages has been 80% effective as they were able to successfully stop the other teams from scoring in 16 out of 20 chances. However, the Tigers were unable to score short-handed in the six games compared to during the season where they scored seven short-handed goals. 

Telford faced 221 shots on goal throughout the play-offs, which led their netminders to face roughly 37 shots on goal per game. On their end, the Tigers had 175 shots on goal and fired an average of 29 shots on goal against the opposing teams’ netminders per game.  

Telford Tigers: Ones to watch 

Going into this game, Telford’s key players for this fixture will be Jaden Peca and Rhodes Mitchell-King.

Peca played a big role in the last six games for the Tigers as he was able to pick up 13 points and come out of the six-game series as the top point scorer with two goals and 11 assists. The two goals that he scored were from powerplay opportunities and so were three of his assists. He was a big part of creating chances for the Tigers when it was necessary and will be someone that the Phantoms will need to try to limit when Telford find themselves in the Phantoms’ defensive zone.  

Another player to keep a close eye on is Rhodes Mitchell-King, who has been a vital part of the Tigers’ defence throughout the season and play-offs games so far.

During the last six games he has managed to skate away with six assists, one of those being from a powerplay chance. Throughout the season he has been a tough player for opposing forwards across the league to get past in order to get into the Tigers’ defensive zone, and that will more than likely be one issue the Phantoms players will need to try and overcome during Saturday’s fixture.  

Peterborough Phantoms: The stats 

The Phantoms started their play-off series with a double-header against Bees IHC, where they skated away from the weekend with four points after a 3-5 victory in Slough and a 4-1 win on home ice.

The following weekend saw them take two points off the Leeds Knights after a penalty shootout on home ice, but the following day they suffered a 4-2 loss at Planet Ice Leeds. To finish their series the Phantoms faced the Hull Seahawks where they won 6-5 at Hull last Saturday but then were victims to the Seahawks after a 7-4 loss at home.  

During the last six games, the Phantoms’ powerplay has been 22.22% effective as they have been successful in using four out of 18 power play chances they have received. Comparing this to the regular season, their power play was 21.74% effective after they were able to use 45 out of 207 opportunities where they had an extra skater. Lukas Sladkovsky has been able to score 3 powerplay goals in the last six games for Peterborough and will be someone the Tigers will have to watch out for on their penalty kill.  

The penalty kill unit that the Phantoms have been playing throughout the last six games has been 66.67% effective, stopping the opposing teams in the group from scoring in eight out of 12 chances. During the regular season the penalty kill was effective 73.45% of the time as they prevented 130 out of 177 chances for the opposing teams to score while they had an extra skater.

The Phantoms were able to score short-handed as Ivan Nordstrom was able to get the puck to the back of the goal while being down a skater. 

Peterborough have faced 248 shots on goal all together throughout their play-off games, and their netminders have faced an average of 41 shots on goal per game. Conversely, the Phantoms have fired 185 shots on goal in the past six games and have had an average of 31 shots on goal per game.  

Peterborough Phantoms: Ones to watch 

During this fixture, the key players for the Phantoms will be Luke Ferrara and Ivan Nordstrom.

Ferrara has made a noticeable impact since his return to Peterborough and during the last six games he has been able to gather nine points, scoring six goals and having three assists, with two of the goals he scored being game-winning goals.

This shows that he will be a key individual that could make a difference for the Phantoms going into this game. During the season he was Peterborough’s top point scorer as he collected 106 points from 50 goals and 56 assists and only faced 18 penalty minutes throughout the season.  

Ivan Nordstrom was the Phantoms’ top point scorer from the last six games in the group stages, as he was able to get 10 points from scoring five goals and assisting on another five goals. Throughout the season he has been a crucial part of the Phantoms creating offensive plays, and was able to score three game-winning goals for the side.

During the last six games he also managed to score a short-handed goal, which means that Telford will need to watch out for the Phantoms even while the Tigers are on the powerplay.  

To send us your latest club news, please click here

About the Author: jdgmedia_user_oih3n4kr