Canadian Matt Schneider didn’t even know ice hockey was played in Queenstown when he passed through several years ago.
Now the 29-year-old is in his third season with the local-based Southern Stampede and is rated by his captain as the premier player in the national league.
Schneider – who at 18 was drafted into the sport’s leading competition, the North American National Hockey League but didn’t end up playing – raves about the Stampede, Queenstown and the fans.
“I’ve played in front of thousands of fans and they’re not even close to being as passionate as the fans in Queenstown.”
Schneider, the recipient of this season’s Queenstown Ice Arena most valuable player sponsorship award, was knocked out cold by Canterbury Red Devils captain Hayden Argyle during a season-opening clash last month.
Argyle was banned for six games but his victim says he fortunately escaped concussion.
One of the Stampede’s two assimilated imports, Schnieder says he’s got no intention of leaving.
“I’m pretty fortunate that my missus is a baker in town so she can get a visa anywhere she wants and I can just piggyback off her.”
Stampede captain Bert Haines says Schneider is “such a workhorse”.
“The attention that he gets lets other players get free and score.
“His ability to battle through all the checks is incredible – he’s highlighting himself as the premier player in the competition.”
After losing their double-header to the Thunder in Dunedin last weekend, 6-3 and 5-4, the Stampede need to win their last six games to make this season’s finals.
That task starts with home games today (Friday) and tomorrow against the West Auckland Admirals.
The Stampede should start favourites, having beaten them twice in Auckland two weeks ago – their first successful double-header of the season so far.
What: Southern Stampede v West Auckland Admirals
Where: Queenstown Ice Arena
When: Today (Friday) and tomorrow, doors open 6pm, puck drops 7pm
Cost: $25 (seated), $20 (standing)