Southern Stampede stomped all over New Zealand’s ice hockey champions at the weekend - performances captain Bert Haines ranks among their best ever.
The Queenstown-based ice hockey team beat Canterbury Red Devils 2-1 in overtime on Saturday at Queenstown Ice Arena, before a spirited 5-4 victory in regulation time on Sunday.
The sold-out WinterFest clashes, which swung dramatically back and forth, cemented Stampede’s early season lead at the top of the NZ Ice Hockey League.
Haines says: “It was an extremely positive weekend.
“Two of the best games of hockey I think Stampede have played full stop.
“We had two really clean games, some big hits, some beautiful goals, scoring opportunities for both sides, some great goalkeeping.
“There was so much excitement out there on the ice and in the crowd, just great games.”
Goalie Aston Brookes was star of the first nail-biting match, saving more than 30 shots, while hotshot import forward Jade Portwood popped up again to score the overtime winner.
Sunday’s battle was a rollercoaster with momentum swinging wildly between the sides and another stand-out performance from Brookes.
Stampede twice drew level only for Canterbury to pull ahead.
Five goals came in the final period, with Portwood again hitting the winner.
“It just showed the grit of our team and the strength of our players,” Haines says.
“We’re getting contributions from every single player, a great deal of buy-in from everyone.”
But Haines says it’s too early to think about championships.
“Way too early - we’re only six games in.
“We know where our goal is but right now we don’t look past any weekend. We’re 100 per cent focused on Friday night and facing Dunedin.
“We can be proud of the way we’re playing though - this is our best start ever. There’s no point having accomplishments if you’re not proud of them.
“But we’ve got to manage that energy and channel it into our focus.”
Next up is Dunedin Thunder in Queenstown tomorrow and Saturday. Puck-drop for both games is 7pm.
Stampede leads the division with 16 points ahead of Canterbury on seven, although the champions have two games in hand.