By GUY WILLIAMS
Queenstown’s ice hockey players will finally play for their home fans again when SkyCity Stampede confront the Canterbury Red Devils tonight.
After playing for family only during all but one game of last year’s abbreviated comp, it’ll be back to full noise when the puck drops at 7pm in the Queenstown Ice Arena.
For fans, it’ll be their first outing to a proper Stampede game since the league finals in August of 2019.
Manager Niel Frear says after weeks of training, the players are keen to get down to business.
Providing extra edge is some healthy internal competition — and selection headaches for
coach Cam Frear — amongst a ‘‘pretty deep’’ squad.
However, the line-up won’t yet be featuring 2019 league MVP Liam Stewart, who’s still in quarantine in Auckland.
Niel Frear says Stewart, who’s hitting the resort in just over a week, will be available for the first away games of the year, against the Botany Swarm, on Queen’s Birthday weekend.
Striving for ‘‘cohesion and line chemistry’’ amongst the players will be the priority for the first set of games.
For some, like returning veteran Mike McRae, it’ll take a wee while to get back in tune with their teammates out on the ice, Frear says.
‘‘They haven’t been together for a while.’’
The Devils are a ‘‘young team with lots of promise’’ this year, with some returning older players including league all-time leading scorer Chris Eaden.
The next pair of home games are against the West Auckland Admirals on June 11-12.
Puck drop is 7pm tonight and tomorrow. Tickets are available from eventfinda.