By MATTHEW MCKEW
The winning streak continues for Queenstown’s SkyCity Stampede as they head into the final weekend of hockey for the year.
The hometown heroes welcomed fans back last weekend for the first time this season with two thumping wins over the South Island Allstars side, a mash-up team between the best of the Dunedin Thunder and Canterbury Red Devils.
Captain fantastic Matt Schneider says the opponents came out fired up, but their lack of
playing time together showed in the set plays on Friday, Stampede taking the W, 8-3.
Saturday was a different story when things clicked into place and Schneider says it was a tighter affair than the final 12-5 score suggests.
‘‘They came out really strong in the first period and we had to go back in the dressing room and rally, because we knew they were making a game of it.
‘‘They came together really quite well, I was impressed.’’
Schneider says he felt the nerves bubbling under the surface on Friday night with the fans back cheering in the stands under Alert Level 1 rules.
‘‘You want to put on a show for the fans, while still playing the right way.’’
This weekend brings a strange season to an unfamiliar end, as Stampede travel to Christchurch to take on the Red Devils.
Schneider says it’s an odd feeling playing away on the last day, as the reigning champions of the Birgel Cup usually end up competing at home for the this-year-axed championship.
He hopes next season will see things get back to normal, with the return of the two Auckland sides important for the status of New Zealand ice hockey.
‘‘Guys up north have taken a year off hockey and things can change if you lose a bit of
momentum, so there is a worry.
‘‘Auckland, being the biggest city in New Zealand, is important for growth opportunity — you need a strong Auckland presence.
‘‘The success of those franchises is important for recognition and legitimacy of the league.
‘‘We have such a low number of teams, every franchise is really important.
‘‘Five is the minimum you ever want and we’d definitely want more.’’
Red Devils and Thunder have both struggled to fill their imports quota this year and Schneider says it’s part of the reason Stampede’s dominated.
He hopes the borders will open by the start of next season to bolster the quality of the league.
Schneider, a Canadian by birth but a New Zealand citizen, suggests an all-Kiwi league could
otherwise be considered to even things up.