Southern Stampede are in do-or-die territory.
The Queenstown-based ice hockey team lost 5-3 to the Canterbury Red Devils on the road in game one of the finals on Saturday.
It means they must win in Queenstown on Friday to keep their championship hopes alive.
If Stampede topple the three-time defending champions on Friday, Queenstown Ice Arena will host the third and deciding game the following day.
Saturday’s loss was just the second for Stampede this season – both have been against the Red Devils on the road – but captain Bert Haines is not pushing the panic button.
“The guys are obviously disappointed,” Haines tells the Otago Daily Times from Christchurch.
“But if there was one game that we felt Canterbury could win, it was that one. Give them credit, they took care of business.
“For us, we’re not too worried about it. We still know we have got heaps more to give and we can’t wait to get back on home ice.”
Seven of the game’s eight goals were scored in an action packed second period, the first by Red Devils forward Alex Polosov eight seconds after the face off.
Stampede forward Greg Collins equalised just 40 seconds later, but Canterbury goal-scoring machine Dean Tonks put his side 2-1 up a couple of minutes later.
With Haines in the box for two minutes for hooking, the home side cashed in via a Brett Speirs goal to make it 3-1 after 32 minutes.
It got even worse a minute later, when Hayden Argyle found the back of the net to make it 4-1.
Matthew Schneider and Jade Portwood, who both scored 22 goals during the season, scored in quick succession to give Stampede hope with a period to play.
However, the Red Devils stiffened defensively and were never seriously threatened in the last period.
With less than a minute on the clock and desperate for an equaliser, Stampede left their net empty. Tonks needed no invitation, flicking the puck into the net from range to ice the game.
Haines says the ice was “horrible” and “really slow” from too many people skating on it pre match.
“It was just a bit flat out there. The puck was real bouncy, which just made for a tougher game to play,” he says.
Stampede flew back to Queenstown yesterday afternoon and will train tomorrow and Thursday for Friday’s crucial game two.
– Otago Daily Times