Two months ago Queenstown’s Southern Stampede ice hockey team were down and almost out.
Stampede were second from bottom in the New Zealand Ice Hockey League.
They had just been thrashed in the inaugural Trans-Tasman Champions League in Australia.
Players Michael Weber, Brian Horwitz and Connor Harrison were suspended after an on-ice brawl.
Goalie Aston Brookes was out injured, along with Canadian import Matt Schneider – nicknamed The Beast. His countryman Stefan Wright had returned home after being hit by a car.
Stampede captain Simon Glass’ early season optimism that his team could win the title and were good enough to beat the Ice Blacks seemed misplaced.
Now – after an eight-game winning streak and one of the most sensational comebacks in NZ ice hockey league history – Stampede have surged to the top of the league and earned a home final against the Canterbury Red Devils.
“At the start of the season I said this team would give the national team a pretty good run,” Glass says.
“Then we went out and lost a few games so everyone doubted that.
Midway through the season we were looking in pretty rough shape. Deep down we believed we could do it but things were just not going our way,” he says.
“But after a slow start, it has been a heck of a second half of the season. We’re pretty rapt. I think this is one of the better teams I’ve been involved with.”
Last weekend, Stampede won 6-5 and 6-2 in Christchurch against the Canterbury Red Devils to secure the home final.
“We’re certainly confident,” Glass says.
“We ended up finishing as top of the league, beating Canterbury twice this weekend, and that puts us as favourites. But we’ve all played enough hockey to know you can’t go into the final cruising – we have to go in
with the same tempo, or a higher tempo, than we did this weekend.
“It’s a matter of us keeping our heads and just playing one more tough game of hockey.”
Stampede fans were ringing the ice arena for tickets as soon as the final whistle blew on Sunday.
“They’re going to be pretty sought-after. We have massive support.
“It’s certainly nice to reward the Queenstown fans with a home final. After playing in all the other ice rinks this season, by far and away our fans are the best.”
The final is at 7pm on Saturday, September 8, with the winners declared champions and lifting The Birgel Cup. Tickets go on sale Tuesday, Wednesday and next Thursday night at Queenstown Ice Arena. It’s cash and eftpos
Winning run to ice hockey final
- July 28, 6-3 Dunedin Thunder (Dunedin)
- July 29, 7-2 Dunedin Thunder
- August 10, 9-3 Botany Swarm (Queenstown)
- August 11, 3-2 Botany Swarm
- August 18, 5-3 West Auckland Admirals (Auckland)
- August 19, 6-4 West Auckland Admirals
- August 25, 6-5 Canterbury Red Devils (Christchurch)
- August 26, 6-2 Canterbury Red Devils