Stampede step up

Argy bargy: SkyCity Stampede's Connor Harrison gets into it with Botany Swarm's Andrew Hay during last Friday night's game at the Queenstown Ice Arena. PICTURE: JAMES ALLAN PHOTOGRAPHY

Queenstown’s SkyCity Stampede can’t afford to rest on their laurels if they want to remain undefeated this season.

Goaltender Aston Brookes says despite beating Botany Swarm 3-1 last Friday, and 4-0 on Saturday, Stampede were ‘‘lucky to squeeze out a win’’.

‘‘I thought we were going to struggle — I didn’t think we were overly convincing on Friday, and again on Saturday, it was one-nil to us for a massive majority of the game.

‘‘With a score like that we certainly can’t afford to sort of take it easy — that’s only one shot away from tying it up,’’ he says.

Saturday’s early goal by Mike McRae was all that was needed to keep Stampede ahead though, thanks to Brookes running an absolute clinic in the net, saving all 38 of Botany’s
shots on goal.

Then, three late goals in the third from Adam Soffer, Callum Burns, and Lachlan Frear sealed the deal for the Stampede.

‘‘We certainly left it quite late to pull a couple of goals ahead, so I don’t know if the four-nil
really reflects how close the game was,’’ Brookes says.

“[Botany], they normally play quite well in our rink, and it’s normally quite chippy games, and it certainly was that — there were a hell of a lot of penalties.’’

Despite Stampede spending a total of nearly 20 minutes with a player in the penalty box, Botany couldn’t capitalise on the power plays.

Sizing up the competition, Brookes says it’s still too early to tell who their biggest threat is, but a face-off against Auckland Admirals next weekend, followed by a rematch with the
Swarm, will likely be close.

He says Stampede will need to step up their offence if they’re to continue to dominate the league.

‘‘I think this year, we definitely haven’t been scoring as many goals as we used to.

‘‘We’re pretty fortunate in that we have a really strong defence so that helps the forwards still do their thing, but it certainly makes some of the games a lot closer than we’re used to.’’

However, Stampede’s biggest asset remains their determination and attitude.

‘‘We’ve always got that desire to win, and we never give up and it’s shown in quite a few games now, which is really nice to see.’’

In Friday’s match, 17-year-old Axel Ruski-Jones scored his first ever New Zealand Ice Hockey League goal, before a lower leg injury forced him off the ice.

Stampede manager Niel Frear says they’re still not sure how serious his injury is.

The weekend’s wins brought the Stampede eight points clear of the rest of the league — they’ll play Auckland Admirals in Auckland next Saturday and Sunday.

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