Queenstown’s SkyCity Stampede ice hockey side brought home the Birgel Cup again on Saturday night in front of a sold-out home crowd.
After a too-close-for-comfort win on Friday night, 5-4, against Botany Swarm, the Stampede put the hammer down on Saturday, ensuring the team’s name will be engraved on the coveted piece of silverware for the eighth time.
Coach Cam Frear says the weekend was ‘‘an emotional rollercoaster’’.
The physicality of both games meant a great show for the fans, ‘‘not great for my heart, especially Friday night’’.
‘‘There was a lot of relief once that game had finished … but we knew what we needed to do to get the job done on Saturday and it worked out.’’
Fittingly, stalwart Colin McIntosh was awarded both finals MVP and team MVP — the 36-year-old also finished the season leading the league in assists and as second-top points scorer, behind teammate Brendan Walkom.
Considering he battled to even take the ice during last year’s finals series, it’s a remarkable comeback.
Towards the end of this season, McIntosh has been nursing a minor dislocation to a shoulder, a tweaked rotator cuff and an AC joint which has given him some gyp, while also managing pericarditis.
McIntosh says he developed the condition, confirmed by a cardiologist, after a Covid vaccine in December, 2021.
‘‘I didn’t leave the house for probably five months.
‘‘I couldn’t walk down my driveway, couldn’t play hockey, couldn’t go for hikes … it was definitely a dark, dark road for a long time.’’
While he spent the off-season trying to get back to full strength, he’s not quite there yet.
‘‘I’ve had to manage it throughout the year.
‘‘I would always decide if I was going to do the [weekly] Tuesday practices or not … it was more of a load management season for me.
‘‘I’m hoping now hockey’s done, I can try to get back into the gym — it was either work and gym or work and hockey, obviously, hockey’s my life, so I chose that.’’
He’s stoked, though, to have been part of another championship-winning Stampede side, a group of guys he describes as ‘‘absolute beauties’’.
‘‘It’s tight-knit from top to bottom — management, coaches, players.
‘‘Everyone’s bought in, they battle through injuries, sickness and at the end of the day we got what we wanted.’’
Frear says he’s ‘‘super-stoked’’ for McIntosh — ‘‘we all know how good he is and last year was tough for him’’.
‘‘Only being able to really play for finals, and not be able to play at the level he wanted to, or knew he was capable of, was hard to watch.
‘‘He put in the work and he’s so dedicated, it’s just good to see it all come together.’’
While the focus for many of the players is this weekend’s Triple Star camp in Dunedin, for the New Zealand under-18s, U20s, women and Ice Blacks, Frear says the team’s indebted to the support from Queenstown.
‘‘It’s just a huge thanks … to the fans, the volunteers, the sponsors.
‘‘It is still an amateur sport — although you go in there and it kind of feels like an entertainment piece, and it’s pretty professional, there are a lot of people that don’t get seen behind the scenes that put a lot together.’’
No uncle, no interest
While Queenstown’s SkyCity Stampede fans were doing their best to raise the roof off the barn during last Friday’s nail-biter against Botany
Swarm, one tiny spectator couldn’t have given a puck.
Snapped cosied up, fittingly inside an ice hockey goal, is Willow Brookes, 2, the niece of Stampede goalie Aston Brookes.
So what could possibly be more interesting than game one of the 2023 final series?
In Willow’s defence, Uncle Aston didn’t play on Friday … Mountain Scene can report she was far more engaged in Saturday’s game.