Who’s this Jade Portwood guy?
That’s the question on the lips of Southern Stampede fans as their team prepares to face champions Canterbury Red Devils over WinterFest.
Queenstown-based ice hockey team Stampede have begun the 2015 season with four away games - winning all four.
New Canadian import Portwood, 26, has bagged six goals and three assists, forming a devastating offensive line with fellow import American Greg Collins, 29, with three goals and six assists.
Captain Bert Haines says: “He is the man - pretty good, eh.
“They’re buddies and have been playing in Europe together.
“Last season and the one before we relied so heavily on Matt Schneider and Mike McRae to carry the team offensively.
“But having these guys, we’ve now got two real threatening lines.
“It means teams have to play against that, which then allows our third line to play quite regularly.”
Portwood began as a junior with Alberta’s Brooks Bandits before representing the University of Alaska-Anchorage, captaining the team in his final year.
He’s played three seasons with the Edinburgh Capitals in Scotland, including 2014-15 with Collins, who’s also played for the Las Vegas Wranglers, University of New Hampshire and a host of Euro outfits.
Stalwart Schneider has been as effective as the imports, and also one of the league’s leading scorers early on, with six goals and three assists, while McRae leads them all - third in the leading scorers table with four goals and seven assists.
Stampede smashed West Auckland Admirals 11-3 on Saturday night, before doubling down with a 7-2 victory on Sunday. That followed impressive comebacks against Auckland’s Botany Swarm the previous weekend, winning 4-3 in regulation and a shootout 7-6.
But New Zealand ice hockey league back-to-back champions Canterbury are a different prospect.
“We’re super-excited,” Haines says on facing the Stampede’s old enemy.
“They come with some extremely talented players, two really talented forward lines.”
Haines says coach Adam Blanchette will likely focus on nullifying that threat with training sessions on strong defence.
Their defence this year will be bolstered by imports Thomas Eischen and Lucas Frey, who plays semi-pro hockey in Sweden.
“We’re also so excited to play at home - we’ve got the best fans in the league, they really are the sixth player on the ice.”
Stampede face Canterbury Red Devils at Queenstown Ice Arena on Saturday and Sunday