Skycity Stampede’s interim coach Cam Frear says he’s motivated to bring the Birgel Cup back to Queenstown after last year’s loss.
And he hopes to be made permanent coach.
Frear, who’s played for the ice hockey team for a decade, says the 2019 side is a mix of fresh and familiar faces.
They include his two younger brothers, Lachlan and Mitchell, who were given a two-year ban for attempting to buy a product containing the prohibited drug clenbuterol.
In December 2017, they were suspended by the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand for trying to buy a fat burner online – which they never received. The ban was backdated.
Coach Frear says having time off has made them realise how much fun it is playing in front of a home crowd, adding “it really gives you the love of the game back”.
Other players returning to the side include captain Matt Schneider, Canadian imports Colin McIntosh and Patrick Volpe, and USA import Brian Dunford, who played for the team in 2014.
New recruits include Canadian goalkeeper Alex Murray, Australian import Alastair Band, and also the son of rock star Rod Stewart and Kiwi model Rachel Hunter, Liam Stewart.
Kory Helowka, from Canada, and Kiwi goalie Daniel Lee won’t be returning this season, Frear says, but the biggest loss is head coach Adam Blanchette, who’s returned to the USA for family reasons.
“He is a big hole to fill; he was a large part of our success and culture as well.”
Stampede’s been the team to beat in recent years, having won three Birgel Cups in the past four seasons; however, they went down to West Auckland Admirals in last year’s final.
Frear says the competition is looking much “more even” this season, rather than just a few standout teams sitting at the top, and “anyone can beat anyone in this league, so you have to respect your opponents”.
He says having a summer to mull over last season’s loss has motivated his side to dig deep and work hard at training.
“In the small amount of time they’ve had together, the team seems like a family and are looking after each other.”
The side will go puck-to-puck with Dunedin Thunder, in Queenstown next Friday, May 31, in their first game of the season.