By MATTHEW MCKEW
One of Queenstown’s SkyCity Stampede’s adopted sons pulled up his hundy in style last Saturday, helping his side bag six vital points.
Queenstown Ice Arena was full to bursting over the weekend as the Stampede saw off their main New Zealand Ice Hockey League rivals, the West Auckland Admirals, 8-4 on Friday
night, before a nail-biting 4-3 win on Saturday.
For forward Mike McRae, 39, now in his seventh season with the six-time championship-winning team, it was a fitting way to bring up his century with the side.
Back in 2013, the Stampede finished fourth in the league — a mighty fall from grace after finishing runner-up the year before.
Enter imports Adam Blanchette — who took over the coaching role in 2015 — and McRae.
‘‘I had been living in Australia and I came to Queenstown specifically for ice hockey,’’ Detroit-born McRae says.
He and Blanchette put their heads together and came up with a plan for coaxing back a few experienced Kiwi hands and targeting foreign imports.
McRae came with the experience of playing in the International Ice Hockey League — a then-feeder division to the professional American NHL.
He’d also played across Europe, with spells in Holland and Belgium.
Beyond the obvious benefits of signing former semi-pros to the roster — strengthened lines on the ice — the veteran players had a strong influence on the development of home-grown stars, like Cam Frear, who’s now Stampede’s coach, and his brother, Mitchell, McRae
‘‘It helps the local guys to be around players like [former Stampede stars] Jade Portwood and Greg Collins.’’
The 2014 season saw improvements, with a third place finish, but it was 2015 that will live long in the memory for McRae.
Stampede took on a determined Canterbury Red Devils for the title and the American says it really could have gone either way.
‘‘The team we had then was pretty special, Portwood, Collins, Lucas Frey and then myself and Schneids [Matt Schneider] were the imports.
‘‘It was probably the best hockey that New Zealand has ever seen, it was definitely fun.’’
The import system’s continued to prove its weight in gold.
Late last month Team GB forward Liam Stewart, who first signed in 2019, rejoined the Stampede for 2021.
McRae says he plans to continue playing for as long as he can, providing life as a father to three-month-old Ziggy and career as a grip technician on film sets, doesn’t get in the way.
Admirals have the chance to settle the score next weekend when Stampede travel to their turf.