Team talk turning point in Stampede season

Last updated 05:00 07/09/2012

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The Southern Stampede will try to win their first New Zealand Ice Hockey League title since 2006 tomorrow night when they face the Canterbury Red Devils. Brendon Egan reports.

A stern intermission team talk during a mid-season game in Dunedin has been the catalyst for the Southern Stampede's remarkable winning run in the New Zealand Ice Hockey League.

The Stampede will host their first home final in Queenstown tomorrow night against the Canterbury Red Devils after recovering from a dismal start to the season to finish in top spot.

Little went right for the Stampede early in the season, as last year's runners-up lost four of their first six games.

The Stampede's remarkable transformation started in late July with the team trailing 3-2 in a game against the Dunedin Thunder.

During the second intermission break, Stampede captain Simon Glass said some strong words were uttered in the locker room about the need to operate together as a team and play to their potential.

The Stampede ended up scoring four third-period goals to win the game 6-3. Since then, they have won eight consecutive games to secure top spot and book a home final.

"I think we've always had it in us. We just had a bad start to the year," Glass told The Southland Times.

"We got off to a bad start [against the Thunder] and a few of the legends in the room expressed their feeling about how we were underperforming. I think that was the turning point. We made the decision we wanted to turn our season around."

The Stampede will take all the momentum into tomorrow night's final after winning their final- round double-header against Canterbury in Christchurch two weeks ago.

They have won three of their four games against the Red Devils this season, but Glass said they needed to be mindful of a dangerous Canterbury team - who are led by the league's top goal- scorer, Chris Eaden.

"They've got a good powerplay. If we can stay out of the penalty box, we should be able to slow them down a little bit there.

"It's a matter of eliminating them and preventing them from getting good opportunities. If we can do that, we should be fine."

The Stampede will have a big advantage for the final with a parochial 500-strong home crowd behind them. Tickets for the decider sold out in just 90 minutes and Glass believed the hometown support would be like having another player out on the ice.

"We've had sellouts most of our home games this year, but nothing as rapid as that. It's too bad, we can't fit more in. There would have been thousands queuing up."

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The Stampede have had a balanced scoring attack this season, but will be looking for strong performances from American forward Brian Horwitz and Brett Speirs in the final.

Speirs has been in impressive touch this season, scoring a team-high 15 goals, while Horwitz is a classy player who has contributed 10 goals and 15 assists.

One of the heroes of the Stampede winning run has been young goal tender Aston Brookes, who has the lowest goals-against average in the competition at 3.16.

"He's certainly got some skill that kid, and has a bright future ahead of him," Glass said.

"He's been rock solid since he's been back from injury."

The Stampede will be trying to go one better than last season, after falling short to the Botany Swarm in the final. Their last grand-final triumph came in 2006 and Glass said they were determined to get their hands back on the title.

"We were pretty disappointed we lost that game last year. The minute we came back from that game, we've been focusing on [getting back to the] final."

Tomorrow's final begins at 7pm.

- The Southland Times


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