They’ve only just clinched their third consecutive national title but Queenstown’s Stampede ice hockey team are hungry for more.
The local team were crowned New Zealand Ice Hockey League champs last Friday night – after beating West Auckland Admirals 5-2 at home in the second of the finals series.
It makes the SkyCity-sponsored team the most successful in NZ history – winning five championships since the league kicked off in 2005.
But coach Adam Blanchette says they aren’t done.
“We’ve still got some unfinished business.
“Christchurch [Canter-bury Red Devils] have won three in a row. I want to get four.
“I want to set our own record. I’m not done yet and I don’t think the boys are either.”
The championship win was particularly sweet for one Stampede player.
Despite playing in six finals since 2009 – four with Stampede and two with Dunedin Thunder – Queenstowner Connor Harrison had never lifted the Birgel Cup.
He describes winning in yellow and blue as “pretty awesome”.
The 24-year-old was on the ice when the final whistle blew.
“It was a massive buzz and a pretty special moment – probably more playing with a lot of guys I have grown up playing with.
“Mitchell Frear, Aston Brookes and I all grew up playing together – it is cool to be back.”
New to the 2017 squad were four fresh imports, who consistently performed well.
Blanchette doesn’t know if they’ll be part of 2018’s cup bid. Forwards Jeremy Akeson and Colin McIntosh, both from Ottawa, could be coaxed overseas.
And while Blanchette says the pair have expressed an interest to play next season, he knows a lot could happen before next season.
Fellow Canadian Kyle Mulder is planning to return but Finn Tomi Martikainen is heading home.
And while there are whispers Queenstowner Braden Lee will retire, again, he’s not quite sure.
“I always announce it and then the season comes around and I miss the challenge of another season – so I end up coming back.
“This year I am going to see where life takes me and make a decision closer to next season.”
Lee took a serious hit in last Friday night’s game.
Blanchette says it was a scary moment – confirming Lee was unconscious on the ice.
“Luckily he came to and he was strong enough to take a lap with the cup.”
The coach stresses Lee had appropriate post-match baseline tests.
Stampede captain Matt Schneider’s game matched his 2m height.
He was named most valuable player in the league – while goalie Aston Brookes scooped the award for the most valuable player in the final.
Blanchette: “The awards are great recognition – but I think if you ask either of those guys they will credit it to doing their job and working with the team.”
The stoked coach puts the team’s championship win down to hard work, dedication and having a mature team.
Blanchette thanks the home crowds and gives kudos to fans who have supported them throughout the year.