Stampede captain Matt Schneider is tipping an Auckland team to provide the greatest threat to retaining the Birgel Cup.|
The Queenstown-based reigning New Zealand ice hockey champions head into this weekend’s home games as the only unbeaten team in the league.
The SkyCity-sponsored team face West Auckland Admirals, who crushed Stampede’s traditional title rivals Canterbury Red Devils 7-2 in Christchurch on Sunday.
It’s a result that comes as no surprise to Schneider.
“For me, I pegged them [Admirals] as the top team coming in.
“Looking at the pre-season, who they got, and who they had coming back, I picked they’d be strong.”
Schneider says he expects two good hockey games.
“We’re definitely looking forward to the weekend. It’s not going to be easy.”
Admirals’ new US import Mario Mjelleli leads the overall scoring table with five goals and seven assists, level on points with Stampede’s Jade Portwood.
The Stampede don’t have any specific plans to deal with Mjelleli, Schneider says.
“We’ll focus on what we can control - our systems, the way we play and how we react to situations.
“Probably the key this weekend is to play our game and trust that will be good enough.”
Stampede have won the opening four games under Schneider. He’s the league’s top goal-scorer, with seven.
“It’s been good - they’ve been going in for me, it’s been nice.”
Schneider says his captaincy style, since taking over from Bert Haines this season, is to lead by example.
“Just go out and do a job on the ice.
“It’s been a fairly easy transition, Bert’s been around quite a bit and our leadership core is really strong - any of them could have done it.”
That’s helped by a consistent squad.
“I remember after my first year, we lost pretty much our entire team but since then guys have been sticking around, the core.”
Admirals have won two, lost one, and lost one in overtime, from the opening four.
Canterbury have won three and lost one.
However, they’ve played Dunedin Thunder twice who appear to be the worst team in the division with six straight losses.
Stampede face West Auckland Admirals at Queenstown Ice Arena on Saturday and Sunday. Puck-drop 7pm.