Captain fantastic: SkyCity Stampede's Matt Schneider in full flight in 2017. PICTURE: BLAIR PATTINSON


Queenstown’s crack ice hockey team will have to box on this year without its talismanic
captain and leading goal scorer.

Canadian native Matt Schneider, who first suited up for SkyCity Stampede in 2012,  leaves in the next month or so for about a year’s break with his wife, Rose, in her home country of Vietnam, where probably the only ice he’ll find is in a gin and tonic.

‘‘We’re going to plan to start a family, so we wanted to be near her parents for that.’’

Two metre-tall Schneider, who’s also played for the Ice Blacks, says he’d like to resume playing when he returns, ‘‘but I cannot promise’’.

Now 36, he played top junior hockey in Canada, against some of the world’s best players of his age, which enabled him to get a university scholarship.

His aspirations to turn pro, however, ‘‘kind of fell by the wayside‘‘, and the year before  he left Canada to travel, he played only recreational ice hockey.

Arriving in New Zealand to work in a Marlborough winery, he didn’t even realise the sport was played here.

On a workmate’s recommendation, he decided to come to Queenstown, met then-Stampede captain Simon Glass and was immediately rostered on.

He only intended playing for a season, but got totally hooked on the team, the hockey
community and the town — ‘‘I had so much fun that first year’’.

About five years ago, he got promoted to the captaincy.

He also won selection for the Ice Blacks, which helped fast-track his Kiwi citizenship.

‘‘Just the experience of putting on the national jersey, it was pretty special for me.’’

Change of pace: Stampede captain Matt Schneider

He’s won silver and bronze in international tournaments but says the highlight was the
team, at full strength, twice beating the Aussies on home ice.

But without doubt it’s his Stampede experience that’s kept him in town.

Winning four championships has been a highlight, but so too has been the whole experience, including Stampede’s raucous supporters.

‘‘I’ve played in front of 10,000 to 15,000 people, back home, and [Queenstown Ice Arena] is by far the best atmosphere.’’

Despite being the side’s top scorer, he’s not kept count — ‘‘I think I’ve had a couple of six-score games’’.

He’s hoping, while he’s away, ‘‘some of these young guys will take my spot, then I can come back and kind of cruise into the sunset and focus more on the defensive side’’.