The Southern Stampede out of Queenstown, New Zealand will have their hands full when they mark the beginning of the 10th anniversary New Zealand Ice Hockey League season with a weekend series. They’ll clash with the defending champions, the Canterbury Red Devils, who will be looking to complete a three-peat this year as Birgel Cup champs. However, the road to the final won’t be easy as the NZIHL is easily icing its strongest competition yet.
Taking the reins this season for the Stampede is Finnish lad, Heikki Grohn. The head coach plays a fairly European style of play and will be looking to keep his players on the ice and out of the box. As a woeful 2013 season ended for the Stampede, changes were meant to be made. As veteran Simon Glass announced his retirement over the offseason, Canadian Bert Haines was given the title of captain. A leader on and off the ice, Haines is an important figure in the Stampede locker room and will no doubt blossom into his captaincy.
A strong import acquisition hailing from Tennessee, Ryan Strayer joins the Stampede after coming off two seasons spent playing in Turkey and Estonia. The defensive American had a strong collegiate career with Franklin Pierce University.
The Red Devils on the other hand have their own differences coming into play. Defending champion head coach Anatoli Khorozov headed to Kazakhstan with new opportunities. That gave assistant coach and Queenstown native, Stacey Rout to take over as bench boss. He has been around New Zealand hockey for over 20 years, representing teams not only locally but internationally with the New Zealand Ice Blacks. No doubt Rout knows exactly what kind of game the Red Devils need to play.
The meat of the Red Devils squad have returned, eager to have another chance at glory. The defensive might be where they struggle. NZIHL Defenceman of the Year, Terry Watt, has returned back to North America for a monumental opportunity, leaving the blue line wide open for an import. The Devils signed two as a replacement, Tamas Lancses from Hungary and Evan Zych from Canada. Zych will be coming straight out of the Southern Professional Hockey League with the Mississippi Surge.
The NZIHL will celebrate the opening of their 10th anniversary season down in Christchurch at the Alpine Ice Arena. The blue and gold of the Southern Stampede will be herding into the Canterbury Red Devils house for a two game weekend series. Puck drop for Saturday’s game is 4:45pm local time and on Sunday, 4:30 pm local time.