By TRACEY ROXBURGH
It’s finally go time for the SkyCity Stampede ice hockey team — but for the first time in
its history, the team will be playing in an almost empty arena.
Stampede manager Niel Frear says his team and the Canterbury Red Devils have made the call to play tomorrow and Saturday night, but due to Alert Level 2 restrictions they’ve got to restrict capacity inside the Queenstown Ice Arena to 100.
‘‘We chose no fans [this weekend] because we couldn’t choose who we would take.
‘‘We’ve got a lot of season pass-holders this year and it was just unfair.’’
Instead, the sides are inviting family only to watch — ‘‘they tend to make a lot of sacrifices
for their partners and their children to play hockey, so it’s nice that we can prioritise that
and get some of the players’ families along to see them’’.
They’ve worked with the Ministry of Health to ‘‘split the bubble’’, so players will be
separated from supporters and off-ice officials, Frear says.
‘‘It’s a two-and-a-half to three-hour event so we’ve got to be really careful we can meet the health needs … and keep every-one safe.’’
The trade-off, for Queenstown, is two extra home games have been added to the 2020 ice
Initially the Stampede home rink was to host four games — two each against the Red Devils and the Dunedin Thunder.
It’ll now also host a special South Island double-header on September 25 and 26, when the
Stampede will go up against the best players from the other two sides, to be selected by New Zealand Ice Hockey League.
Frear says there was initially a North v South series planned, but due to travel limitations and ongoing uncertainty about where Auckland would be in terms of Alert Levels, ‘‘we’ve decided just to do the rest of the South Island against us, basically’’.
‘‘We’ll stay as we are — we’re not giving them any of our players — and they [NZIHL]
are going to find the best players they can in the other teams.
‘‘It’ll be really good hockey.
‘‘[NZ Ice Hockey Federation] and NZIHL have been really supportive; they’re helping the
teams get through this and we really want to provide hockey for the players, the fans, the
sponsors, and it’s an opportunity … to showcase that South Island part.
‘‘It would have been nice to have the whole country involved, but it is what it is.’’
Ahead of tomorrow night’s game, Frear says the Stampede’s fizzing.
‘‘They’re over practice.
‘‘It’s 12 to 14 weeks that we’ve been training and, normally, it’s six maybe, or eight.
‘‘They’re really keen.
‘‘Fingers crossed we do ok and fingers crossed we get the fans back in the building because that’s what really makes it, the people and the community.’’
Puck drop for both games will be 7pm — Frear says there’ll be a link going through SkyCity
Stampede’s Facebook page to watch the livestreamed games on YouTube, ‘‘all going to plan’’.