By MATTHEW MCKEW
Crowds will pile into Queenstown Ice Arena tonight for the first time this season when SkyCity Stampede take on a rest-of-the-South Island team.
The best players from the Canterbury Red Devils and Dunedin Thunder will combine to take on the so-far undefeated Stampede.
The Queenstown side demolished Thunder last Friday, with 12 goals to just one in reply.
Fan favourite Matt Schneider says early goals saw the game become very one-sided as Thunder folded under relentless attack.
Rising talent Noah Gregory impressed Schneider with a solid hat-trick, and a number of youngsters stepped up to the plate in lieu of injured seniors.
The storm clouds rolled in on Saturday, though, and the Thunder hit the ice firing on all cylinders.
‘‘Saturday they came out strong, which is what I expected from Dunedin, that was more of the effort and play I expect,’’ Schneider says.
‘‘You never like to get beat like that, everybody has their personal pride, so you come out harder.’’
Stampede eventually triumphed, winning 3-1, but it was a close-run thing until Jack Robbie slotted the last goal.
‘‘It was good to get into an intense game, because we haven’t really had one yet,’’ Schneider says.
Tonight, 7pm, and tomorrow, Stampede get to play ‘‘in front of our amazing fans again’’, and the Canadian says he’s ready for the atmosphere to return — particularly during the warm-up and goal celebrations.
‘‘It’s hard to start the game, that’s where I’ve noticed it most.
‘‘We’ve only got this[double-header] and the next one left; the season’s wrapping up real quick even though it feels like it just started, so I’m taking each weekend as a special opportunity this year — get some good hockey in when things were looking so dire at the start.’’
He’s hoping the South Island match-up doesn’t suffer from exhibition stiffness and the visiting players combine to seek revenge for their city team defeats.
‘‘If everybody I expect to commits, they’ll be pretty good games, and if we get a few of our guys back from injury, it will be a high-skill game.’’