Simple, hard-nosed tactics will help Stampede win the Birgel Cup, coach Adam Blanchette says.
The season kicks off tomorrow night when the Queenstown team take on Canterbury Red Devils.
Blanchette is confident they can retain the NZ Ice Hockey League title for the third consecutive year.
He says the boys are in good shape and “hungry” to get things under way.
“For the last two years Stampede has been the team to beat. Obviously there are always some nerves going into it, but I think we’ve been here long enough to harness those nerves and make them positive.”
They’re going into the season on the back of two impressive wins against Dunedin Thunder – 9-0 and 9-4.
Despite being friendly games, Blanchette says they boosted confidence.
“More important than the score was how the team came together so quickly. The chemistry was the biggest thing for me – I was happy to see that. Two wins certainly don’t shake the confidence [but] neither side were playing with their fully rostered team.
“We’re playing at home and are confident in our ranks that we will establish our physical presence.
“Early on in the season that is very important, and it’s what I’ve been stressing in practice. Keep things simple, don’t get too fancy, play simple, hard-nosed hockey and stick to those sound fundamentals.
“That is my mentality as a coach.”
He has checked out the other teams and reckons overall the league will be stronger this year.
Auckland Admirals, who they play on July 1, are pitched as good, solid competition.
His message in the changing rooms will be to have fun and trust in the team he’s put on the ice. He would not reveal which imports will make the cut – league rules stipulate only four are allowed on the ice in any game.
He’ll be picking from stalwart Mike McRae, newbies and Canadians Colin McIntosh, Jeremy Akeson and Kyle Mulder, and Finn Tomi Martikainen.
Captain Matt Schneider, also from Canada, is now a NZ resident.
“It’s always scary recruiting players from overseas. Obviously we don’t have the resources to physically watch them, but from everything I’ve heard from buddies or former coaches, they’ve lived up to all expectation and even more so.
“I think they’ll really complement the team we have on and off the ice. [I’m] really happy with what they are going to bring to the table and think the fans will too.”
He gives a shout out to those fans – and says their rowdy roars act as an extra man on the ice.
See SkyCity Stampede play Canterbury Red Devils tomorrow and Saturday (puck drops at 7pm both nights), Queenstown Ice Arena.