Browse Tag: Southern Stampede

Adam Blanchette Announces Immediate Retirement After Concussion

Hockey is a hard sport. Anyone who’s played at any level can tell you the toll it takes, and the higher level of competition, the more players ask of their bodies.

When a player announces that they are retiring from the sport due to injury sustained in play, it comes like a kick in the gut. Not just because your team has lost a valuable piece of their lineup, not just because an athlete you’ve enjoyed watching is suffering, but because for a moment, you put yourself in their skates. You wonder how it would feel to lose that part of your life.

Adam Blanchettex

Photo: Chris M Photography.

Adam Blanchette sustained a concussion during play against the visiting Dunedin Thunder on Sunday, and while I didn’t see the play in question, I heard about it after the game.

Out of courtesy for the team and Adam’s privacy, I decided not to publish anything about the injury until the Stampede made it public. Injuries can be a tricky business in hockey, and as much as I appreciate being able to inform NZIHL fans about current news, I will never do so at the expense of a player’s private life.

The week dragged on with no word from the Stampede, which left some of us hoping for the best and others fearing the worst.

This morning, Stampede Captain Bert Haines had the following message for the public:

It is with deep hearts that we announce the immediate player retirement of American import Adam Blanchette. Our top defenseman for the past 2 seasons, Adam was recently involved in a physical play, sustaining a knock to the head and subsequent concussion. Unfortunately Adam has suffered a few concussions throughout his career, which has stretched across North America, Europe and Australia/New Zealand.

Adam brought with him to the ice a fierce competitive streak and amazing playmaking abilities. In addition, he also brought a great attitude and personality in the locker room. His presence on the ice will be missed. However, it is with great news that Adam will stay on with the team in a coaching/leadership role to help continue to grow and contribute the Stampede!!

Please take this opportunity to join me in thanking Adam for his contributions as a player (also in coaching junior hockey) and welcoming him as he continues to coach/provide leadership for our team.

Let’s go Stampede!

Bert Haines (Captain) and the Southern Stampede Team Management

That must have hurt to write, and I appreciate the Stampede’s honesty. The link above goes to the Stampede’s Facebook page, where I encourage OTF readers to leave their thoughts and well wishes for Adam Blanchette.

The fact that Blanchette is staying with the team in a leadership capacity is a heartwarming silver lining to a horrible story that I wish I didn’t have to write. Post-Concussion Syndrome is a nightmare for those suffering it and Blanchette is absolutely making the right decision to focus on his own health and safety, even at the expense of hockey.

This continues to be a rough year for the Southern Stampede, who take on the Botany Swarmtonight at Queenstown Ice Arena.

And it will be a rough game for Stampede fans, possibly a weird one, considering how used to Blanchette’s presence we’ve become on the ice. He was particularly visible on the penalty kill during last weekend’s games against the Dunedin Thunder–I recall a particularly triumphant moment where he broke up the Thunder’s play with a skillful poke-check.

Sometimes it’s those little things that stick in your memory–the little signs of a good defensive player who does things right.

I’ll be writing a retrospective piece on Blanchette’s storied career later this week, and I’d encourage anyone who wants to share memories or experiences they had with Blanchette in the NZIHL and AIHL to leave a comment here.

Get well, Adam, and this Stampede fan is glad you’re sticking around in Queenstown. All of our staff at OTF send our regards.

The Double-Edged Sword of Increased NZIHL Media Coverage

With over 4100 views as of this writing, last weekend’s game between the Southern Stampedeand Canterbury Red Devils is officially the most-watched stream in the history of the New Zealand Ice Hockey League. The match was the second of the 2014 NZIHL season and gave us a great taste of the season to come.

Fans of the NZIHL and AIHL both can appreciate this milestone, as both fanbases have shared frustration at the lack of media attention often paid to our great sport. In countries where cricket and rugby are the sport de rigueur, attracting media attention to ice hockey has sometimes felt like an uphill battle.

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Photo: Chris M Photography.

And as in the case of last week’s games, the sad truth is that in spite of this milestone, it was the drama and tragedy of the game that attracted New Zealand’s mainstream media.

The injury of Stampede’s Matt Schneider at the hands of Canterbury’s Hayden Argyle is old news by now, but the media reverberations were widely felt. Publications which frequently didn’t bat a lash toward the NZIHL were suddenly experts on the subject, nevermind the fact that some of their articles contained factual inaccuracies.

For example, one piece mentioned Schneider being “held in place” for Argyle to attack. Sure, he was tangled up with another Devils player, but any veteran observer of the sport can tell you hockey players get tangled up in front of the net on a daily basis. There was no malice in the Devils’ positioning there.

This is not a naming and shaming piece so I won’t link to any of the articles in question. As someone who has followed the NZIHL as a fan far longer than I have written about it, I do wonder (in a cynical mental tone of voice, no less): will these publications continue following our League for the good clean hockey? Or will the interest wane if the next few NZIHL games pass without major incident?

And from there, the mind wanders to other questions: while a mostly-accurate account of an injury sustained on the ice isn’t the sort of publicity the fans want or need, does it help grow the sport’s popularity in the end? Is there truth to the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity?

The NZIHL has long struggled with getting the message across to the New Zealand public that our brand of hockey is more finesse than fisticuffs. After all, the Ice Blacks and NZIHL depend on a core of homegrown local players, and if future generations of parents are too afraid of goonery and concussions to enrol their children, that local core will suffer. The fewer NZ kids grow up playing hockey, the fewer future players that NZIHL teams and the national squad can draw from.

But on the opposite side of that coin, it’s possible that the slew of articles spawned by the Schneider/Argyle incident have alerted potential players and parents to the existence of New Zealand hockey in the first place.

Increased media coverage for the NZIHL is truly a double edged sword. Higher viewer numbers and the Stuff.co.nz streamed Game of the Week can only mean good things, but the New Zealand hockey community must now be aware that there are more eyes on us than ever before.

The Stampede’s fanbase had such a strong and vitriolic reaction to the Schneider injury that the team felt the need to issue a press release stating that, “… our fans are entitled to their own opinions and interpretation of the game, please note that their opinions are theirs alone and do not reflect those of the Stampede players and team management. The Stampede have put last weekend’s events behind them and hope that everyone can move forward with them as we continue a close and exciting 2014 season.”

Wise words in the eyes of this Stampede fan. The League, the players, and media who cover the NZIHL will do well to take those words to heart, and most of them already have. It’s important to celebrate the milestone achieved last weekend without allowing it to sour our opinions toward the sport as a whole.

I hope the mainstream New Zealand media is listening: the NZIHL is more than just an unfortunate concussion sustained in the heat of the moment. If the articles keep rolling in showcasing the finesse of our game, the storied histories of our imports, the dedication of our homegrown Kiwi players, and the devotion of our small but vocal fanbase, then I will happily consider my cynicism unjustified.

NZIHL Injuries Update – Week 7

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We all know hockey is a rough sport, and the 2014 season’s New Zealand Ice Hockey League injuries are doing a good job of driving that point home so far.

Every South Island team has now lost at least one player to injury. Of those, three players are unfortunately out for the remainder of the season.

Here’s a look at which teams are down players heading into Week 8 of the 2014 NZIHL season:

Southern Stampede

The Stampede have no doubt been bit hardest by the injury bug this year. The Stampede’s season opened with an after-whistle hit on brilliant forward Matt Schneider that left him unconscious. He missed the remainder of that game, which was the second of a double-header against the Canterbury Red Devils. Fortunately for the Stampede, they had a bye the next week and Schneider has told the media that he didn’t sustain concussion symptoms. He didn’t miss any further games.

Next, the Stampede lost star defenseman and AIHL Championship winner Adam Blanchette in their fourth game of the season. Blanchette sustained a suspected concussion and was pulled from the June 22 game against visitors Dunedin Thunder.

Later that week, the Stampede confirmed the worst: not only had Blanchette been concussed,he would be retiring immediately as a precaution. While we all miss seeing Blanchette on the ice, his decision to do what’s best for his health is an admirable one.

The third blow to the Stampede came when they next faced the Botany Swarm up in Auckland: young forward Callum Burns took a friendly fire slapshot to the face which left him with a cut beneath his eye and a broken nose. Burns missed the remainder of that game but returned for the next.

Unfortunately for Burns, when the Stampede took on the Thunder at home in Dunedin, he’d be struck yet again, taken off the ice with a broken wrist. Burns is expected to miss the rest of the season, which is no surprise.

This comes as a particular blow to the already hard-done-by Stampede, as Burns had really stepped up his game this season. He’d already scored 2G and 1A by the time he was injured and was showing visible improvement with each game–and at only 17 years old, against much larger and older competition.

Dunedin Thunder

English-born Matt Enright suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the fifth game of theThunder season during a match against the Red Devils. The forward was the Thunder’s third overall points producer last season. This year he was averaging a goal per game, and though the Thunder are an offensively-stacked team, his loss has still resulted in some necessary line shuffling.

In spite of his broken ankle, Enright has continued to travel with the team and remains very much an active part of the Thunder.

Canterbury Red Devils

While details are sparse and it would be no surprise to anyone if the Devils opted not to disclose how things are looking for now, the Canterbury Red Devils have lost star forward Vladimir Kutny for at least one game.

Kutny was not on the ice against the Botany Swarm for the second of last weekend’s games. Exactly when and how he sustained his shoulder injury wasn’t made clear, but the Devils and their fans are no doubt hoping he’s back in fine form for their upcoming games.

Kutny is a new addition to the Devils line-up this year, hailing from Slovakia and coming to Canterbury on the heels of a career that includes two trips to the World Junior Championships, three years of Canadian play in the QMJHL, and now 14 points in 6 games for the Red Devils.

The Devils presently sit at the top of the NZIHL table, though they seemed to be missing Kutny from the lineup as they struggled last weekend, losing two games to visitors Botany Swarm.

Botany Swarm and West Auckland Admirals

The NZIHL’s two North Island teams have either not lost any players to injury or have not disclosed any. As we head down the home stretch of the 2014 season, let’s hope their luck continues.

All of us here at OTF wish Callum Burns and Matt Enright best of luck for their return to NZIHL play in 2015. They’re important additions to their respective squads and we look forward to seeing them back on the ice. Adam Blanchette meanwhile will make an excellent addition to the Stampede’s coaching staff going forward.

Unless the Devils announce otherwise, we are assuming Vladimir Kutny will be back in the line-up for the Devils as they rematch the Swarm this upcoming weekend.

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.