New faces, old heads for Stampede

Imports: Stampede have moved to replace star import Jade Portwood PICTURE: BLAIR PATTINSON

Reigning champs SkyCity Stampede have rostered four fresh imports as they chase ice hockey’s Birgel Cup for the third straight year.

The Queenstown team bid a reluctant farewell to league MVP Jade Portwood ahead of the new season.

Fellow imports Valtteri Vainio and goalie Adrian Volpe have also departed.

But the Stampede won’t be short on numbers or nous.

They’ve sourced three hugely experienced Canadians and a talented Finn for the new season.

Forwards Jeremy Akeson and Colin McIntosh, both from Ottawa, join French Canadian David Croteau and Finn Tomi Martikainen.

Stampede stalwart Mike McRae also fills a fifth import slot – but only four will be allowed to play in any one game.

Canadian Stampede captain Matt Schneider qualifies as a New Zealand resident this year.

Coach Adam Blanchette says it’ll be difficult to replace Portwood.

“But I’m definitely happy with the new guys we’ve got coming in and the faces returning.

“You go on referrals and resumes but there’s a lot of experience there and in the squad as a whole.

“They’re all guys who know what it takes, not just on the ice but what you do off the ice.

“That’ll rub off on the younger players.”

Ice Blacks captain Bert Haines, also a Canadian but a New Zealand citizen, and Braden Lee also feature in the squad.

Younger Stampede players include all three Frear brothers – Cameron, Lachlan and Mitchell – with Lachlan and Conor Harrison returning from uni and Dunedin Thunder.

Ice Blacks Callum Burns and Aston Brookes are also in, along with Harrison Macharg and others.

Of the imports, Akeson, 32, is a 6ft 2in, 100kg left winger, a veteran of mid-level pro-fessional leagues in the US and Canada.

He played with forward McIntosh, 29 (6ft, 93kg), at New York State’s Watertown Wolves in the professional Federal Hockey League last season, scoring 10 goals each.

Centre Croteau, 33 (6ft, 82kg), has spent most of his career in the French league but recently returned to play professional hockey in Canada.

They’ll arrive in May. Blanchette says Stampede’s uncompromising style should suit them.

“They’ll be guys who can handle themselves and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like that in my players.

“We’re a non-fighting league but if you generalise the North American style it’s about a smaller rink, and I’m American so I lean towards that style.

“When you take the size of our rink, the fans, the atmosphere, and you’ve got a couple of 100kg big bodies rolling in at you, it’s a pretty tough place to play.”

Forward Martikainen, 27 (5ft 6in, 73kg), who has racked up the goals in the Finnish second division playing for Diskos, is already in town.

Training starts officially tonight with pre-season games in May.

Stampede’s first home game is against Canterbury Red Devils on May 26 at Queenstown Ice Arena.

Businesses can sponsor individual players for about $750, with the business logo displayed on the pants.