Ice hockey: Must-win stakes for Stampede

The Southern Stampede's season is on the brink.

It must beat three-time defending champions the Canterbury Red Devils in Queenstown tonight to keep its national championship hopes alive.

Last weekend's 5-3 loss in game one in Christchurch was just the Stampede's second loss all season, meaning the top seed must win at home tonight and tomorrow to win the Birgel Cup for the first time since 2006.

Forward Matt Schneider (30) knows what it feels like to lose a final series to Canterbury.

He was in his first season with the Stampede when it fell short to the Red Devils in 2012, something he is eager to put behind him.

''That one still stings a bit. Definitely don't want a replay of that,'' he said.

Schneider, who is originally from Vernon, Canada, finished the regular season tied with the most goals in the league (22), and added another in last weekend's loss.

He and fellow forward Jade Portwood, who also scored his 23rd goal of the season last weekend, had a ''friendly competition'' to see who could score the most goals during the season.

However, with the season on the line, the only thing Schneider is thinking about is winning.

''All that means nothing now - we've just got to get these wins,'' he said.

''It was good playing with some of the new imports. It really boosted me and created a challenge within the team. But personal stuff aside, until we win that championship in the weekend.''

The Stampede has not lost at home all season - its two losses were both to the Red Devils in Christchurch - as the Queenstown-based team rolled through the regular season with 15 wins from its 16 games.

But a first home loss tonight would hand the Red Devils a fourth consecutive national title, and a record fifth overall.

Schneider, who also dished out 21 assists during the season, said he was looking forward to getting back on home ice tonight.

He found the ice in Christchurch slow last weekend, which resulted in a bouncy puck and a sluggish performance.

''It dictated the game a bit. Their goals were a couple of bounces. But both teams were playing on the same ice - you can't really blame the ice.

''We came out a bit sluggish, but they played really well. They skated hard and really neutralised our chances. We have got to battle a bit harder and not give them anything easy and put everything on the line. We're in a must-win situation.''

Regardless of whether or not the Stampede wins a third national title, Schneider, who works fulltime at Skyline Gondola, will be back for a fifth season next year.



National league finals
Stampede v Red Devils

Where: Queenstown.

When: Tonight, 7pm.

The situation: Red Devils lead the series 1-0. Game three (if required) is in Queenstown tomorrow.



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