A rousing celebration by fans as SkyCity Stampede were crowned 2019 National Ice Hockey League champions was the greatest reward of all.
In a home final last Friday, Queenstown’s ice hockey team secured an emphatic 6-2 win over defending champs, the West Auckland Admirals, in front of a full house of about 600 people.
As the final whistle sounded, supporters cheered for 45 minutes as players took turns skating the rink with the Birgel Cup.
“It’s a feeling you can’t even explain” is how first-season coach Cam Frear describes the moment.
The finals series is best-of-three, but the third game wasn’t needed after Stampede won 8-4 on August 9, followed by a second win last weekend.
Victory was super-sweet given the Admirals last year ended the Stampede’s bid for a fourth championship in a row. Stampede have won the league six times in their 14-year history.
This season’s success was more due to camaraderie than technique and talent, Frear says.
Having played for the team for 10 years, Frear knows what makes ice hockey enjoyable.
“It’s about showing up and wanting to work hard for the guy next to you.
“We had a really close knit-team this year that felt like a family, so it meant that when players came to training they wanted to be there.”
In the changing room, it was a champagne celebration, where players embraced each other and blasted music. They continued with drinks at Searle Lane, where they met with sponsors and fans, followed by a party at a player’s home on Saturday.
“We’ve just been hanging out as a group and letting it all soak in.
“There’s a chance that the team will never play together again with every single person,” Frear says.
But not all will hang up their skates over summer – Liam Stewart, Matt Schneider, Braden Lee, Ryan Strayer, Connor Harrison, Mitchell Frear and Stefan Amstan have been selected to lace up for New Zealand’s ice hockey team.
They’re in the Ice Blacks squad for the Trans-Tasman Challenge series against Australia’s Mighty Roos, which is held as part of the Winter Games NZ, in Queenstown, next month.
It comes as no surprise Stewart, son of rock star Rod Stewart and Kiwi model Rachel Hunter, has been picked given he’s the club’s top goal scorer, bagging 18 points in the regular season. He’s also been named the league’s most valuable player, as voted by every team in the competition. And he was voted MVP for Stampede and for the finals.
Meantime, some imports, including defence player Brian Dunford and goalie Alex Murray, will make the journey home over the next few weeks.
The club is in talks with players ahead of next year’s season – Frear expects a similar line-up but isn’t able to name names just yet. And he wants to remain coach.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done on the ice, as well as the culture off the ice.”