Watch out, national ice hockey teams.
After netting back-to-back titles last week, Queenstown’s Stampede “family” might be settling in for a period of domination.
Imposing Stampede captain Matt Schneider, who bounced back from a broken bone in his foot, reckons the core group of players are sticking around “for a couple of years at least”.
Schneider says the players hang out every weekend.
“We are family, we’re out playing hard for each other just as much for ourselves, so it’s a good environment that we’ve got right now.”
The SkyCity-sponsored team crushed Canterbury Red Devils 7-1 last Friday night at Queenstown Ice Arena, putting on five goals in the final period to wrap up the final series 2-0.
Despite the final scoreline Schneider says it was a battle.
“We played real solid from the front to the back, it was close for a while, it was pretty nerve-wracking, but in the end we came through.”
Two-metre tall Schneider, 31, a Canadian who made the NHL team Calgary Flames draft, has been in Queenstown four-and-a-half years.
The hockey community – the players, the fans, the players coming through - drew him in.
He says there’s something special about the team which keeps people hanging around longer.
“You don’t get that a lot of that, even in Canada, because it’s a little bit popular and a little bit bigger. Here it’s really tight-knit but it is growing, which is really nice to see.”
It’s obviously addictive, drawing players out of retirement like Simon Glass, Braden Lee and even Canterbury’s Hayden Argyle, a former Stampede player.
Lee, a Kiwi, announced last year’s finals games would be his last. Until this season, it turns out.
He’s been reinvigorated by playing more on the top line and finding the net - and spending less time in the penalty box.
Lee says: “They say a real champion is someone who defends their title, right? I just wanted to go and defend it.”
Eleven Stampede players have been selected for tomorrow’s Skate of Origin clash in Auckland.