Eyes on the prize


History beckons for Queenstown’s SkyCity Stampede ice hockey team.

If they can again win a best-of-three finals series against West Admiral Admirals, starting in Auckland this Saturday and finishing at home the following weekend, they’ll become the first team to win the Birgel Cup four years in a row.

Currently they share their three-wins-in-a-row record with Christchurch-based Canterbury Red Devils.

“These guys want to have our unique stamp on Stampede history,” coach Adam Blanchette says.

“We don’t really want to share any records with Christchurch, we want to pave our own path and leave our own legacy.”

Blanchette, whose team were top qualifiers after the round-robin series, agrees it’s “kind of crazy” that the finals series starts again on the second-placed team’s home ice.

“The first game of a three-game series is arguably the most important, isn’t it?

“It’s added pressure because you lose that game on the road, then you’ve got two games at home [scheduled August 24 and 25] but you’re facing elimination in both games.

“But if we go [to Auckland] and win, obviously it’s a massive advantage because [the Admirals] have to take two at home on us.”

Despite travelling for Saturday’s game, however, Stampede are in a good space.

After a poor start to the season, with back-to-back losses to the Admirals, they’ve now won 10 games in a row, including 7-0 and 3-1 home wins against the same team in mid-July.

Blanchette, who’s coached Stampede since the start of their Birgel Cup-winning reign, says “you’ve got to respect [the Admirals] but if we play to the best of our capabilities, we know that there’s no team that should be able to hang with us”.

“Sometimes the biggest enemy can be yourself in situations like that.”

He notes the team’s got stronger as the season’s gone on, “and we’ve got a lot of guys coming off injuries”.

“We’re going to the weekend healthy, with a full line-up, which hasn’t really happened for us much this year.

“It’s going to be really exciting to see what we can do.”

4.30pm at Paradice Avondale.