Southern Stampede Take Thunder to Overtime

stampedeLet’s admit it: the first week of the NZIHL was not a great one for the Southern Stampede, as documented in my earlier post. The injury to star forward Matt Schneider and the double-header losses to the Canterbury Red Devils were not what the team or the fanbase had in mind for a great start to the season.

Fortunately the Stampede were able to prove that’s all in the past with their 4-3 victory over the visiting Dunedin Thunder on Saturday night. Despite how early we are in the NZIHL season, this game had a sense of importance to it. The Stampede had the opportunity to prove they were well and truly over Week 1. A loss here could start to paint the wrong kind of picture; nobody wants to be that team plagued by injuries, suspensions, and frustration so early in the year.

Despite the fact that forward Mike McRae was serving a one-game suspension for fisticuffs and roughing, the Stampede answered the call. Here are a few reasons why this victory was an important one for the Stampede camp:

The Stampede prove they can win without Mike McRae

Mike McRae is an important player for the Southern Stampede. How important, you ask? As of puck drop for yesterday’s game against the Thunder, McRae had scored every single goal on the Stampede’s stats sheet. That’s right. All of them.

McRae is a lot of things for the Stampede: he’s a big presence, a physical forward that creates space and scoring opportunities. Since coming to the Stampede from the Gold Coast Blue Tongues of the AIHL, he’s been a 2+ point per game player, currently hovering at 2.29.

The numbers speak for themselves, but McRae also has assets that don’t translate directly onto the scoreboard. He’s one of those players whose teammates just look more confident when he’s on the ice. He’s got enviable chemistry with his linemates, Matt Schneider in particular. Speaking of…

Matt Schneider not only played, he had a pretty good night

The hit that Schneider suffered against the Red Devils in Week 1 was the biggest scare of my NZIHL watching life. It looked bad. Things may have played out differently if the Stampede hadn’t had a bye in Week 2 of the season. Fortunately Schneider got an extra week to recover, and it shows.

In a league where he’s literally head and shoulders above a good majority of the players, it’s no surprise that Matt Schneider is a dominant player. There were moments when the Thunder were badly outplaying the Stampede in yesterday’s match, but Schneider chased the puck like a bloodhound on the hunt and it showed. He didn’t show any signs of post-injury jitters and ended up with a goal and an assist to his name. Also noteworthy was Schneider’s nearly 30 minutes of ice time.

We were just glad to see him out there.

The Stampede’s new imports are looking good

William Compton and Ryan Strayer, both of the USA, are playing their first NZIHL seasons this year. They both notched a goal in this win, which was a true team effort. Compton in particular has a much more physical game than his size would indicate. He’s a solid, speedy addition to the team. It’s great to see the new imports fitting into the Stampede’s lines well, considering the void left on their roster (and in our hearts) by the departure of Tommy Zizian, who played his last season with the NZIHL last year.

Just in case you were wondering if Bert Haines has still got it

You got your answer last night. The veteran Captain snatched up a loose puck in the defensive zone and drove it home unassisted for the overtime game winner, short-handed no less. That was a beauty of a shot to witness. There are some moments in hockey when you can just tell a goal is coming, and this was one of them. Haines took a split second to line up, rifled it home, and the sold-out crowd absolutely exploded.

Despite this only being the third game of the NZIHL season, this was a win the Stampede needed. There were moments when the momentum of the game seemed to shift entirely into the Thunder’s hands. A win like this will buoy the team when the two clubs square off and do it all again tonight.

Tonight’s rematch of Southern Stampede vs. Dunedin Thunder will be streamed on Stuff.co.nz, puck drop at 7:00PM.