By GUY WILLIAMS
Queenstown’s ice hockey team might have lost their first game of the year last Friday, but
probably won over another army of fans.
That’s because SkyCity Stampede’s surprise 9-8 defeat at the hands of development team Auckland Mako, before a sellout crowd at Queenstown Ice Arena, was a roof-raising thriller.
Mako is a blend of promising under-23 players and league veterans from around the country, and their games don’t count in the league standings.
However, Stampede goaltender Aston Brookes, who sat out Friday’s game, reckons the northerners came to play while his team was a little flat.
When Stampede scored in the last four minutes of regular time to square things up at four-all, that forced its first penalty shoot-out of the season, which it lost 5-4.
‘‘It was a bit of a nail-biter, so the people watching were treated to a pretty good show, but we definitely don’t like to lose, especially in our own rink,’’ Brookes says.
‘‘It was a combination of us maybe being a bit over-confident, and Mako having a bit to prove.’’
Stampede also fielded an ‘‘experimental’’ line-up, giving some younger squad members
playing time and mixing things up positionally.
‘‘Not that it was the main issue, but change like that is always going to make it harder.’’
After a well-deserved ‘‘tune-up’’ from coach Cam Frear, Stampede came out fizzing on Saturday night for an emphatic 7-2 victory.
They were to play second-placed Botany Swarm this weekend in what would’ve been their final pair of games before the finals, also in the resort, from September 17 to 19.
However, this week’s Covid lockdown’s forced both fixtures to be postponed to as-yet unconfirmed dates.
Whenever those games happen, Brookes says they could be ‘‘somewhat of a preview of the final’’.
‘‘Historically they’ve always come down here and played quite well in our rink, so it’ll be a good contest to end the season with.’’