First-game blues saw a young Southern Stampede ice-hockey team bomb out this year.
Runners-up last season, the Queenstown-based team finished the national league competition last Saturday in bottom place.
They won just five games out of 16, with only one win coming in the first game over eight rounds of double-headers.
“It seems as if throughout the season we’ve been using the first game as a practice game,” player/coach Stacey Rout says.
True to form, they lost 4-2 last Friday night to top-of-the-table Botany Swarm of Auckland, but beat them 4-3 the next day after a shootout.
The weekend before, they suffered an embarrassing 13-2 first-game defeat to Dunedin Thunder but only lost in overtime the next day.
“We were just turning up not prepared,” experienced Stampede defender Bert Haines says.
“We kind of prepared through-out the first game and we’d show up for the second game.”
The team trained poorly, Haines says. “We were short of structured training, short of players.”
The Stampede and ice hockey club will look at hiring a full-time coach next year.
The team also hopes to bring in two or three imports – they had two this term, but one misfired and the other left mid-season.
Like Haines, Rout says their opening-game blues were “extremely frustrating, considering the talent pool we’ve got”.
The Stampede will contribute 13 players, the most of any in the five-team league, to a South Island v North Island all-stars game in Queenstown on September 18, he adds.
Rout is particularly happy with how a young group of players, all 16 to 18, have developed – such as 16-year-old Aston Brookes.
“I don’t think New Zealand has seen a goal-tender come through quite like Aston.”
More than half a dozen of the Stampede squad are still at high school.
Gareth Lloyd, Connor Harrison and Luke Pickering had “outstanding seasons” and Quinn Drake and Mitchell Frear had also come along well. Rout is confident the Stampede – beaten finalists last year – will reap the benefit come 2011.