Import Report: Skycity Stampede

The three-time defending Birgel Cup champion Skycity Stampede will be looking to make it a historic four-peat this season in front of their passionate fanbase at Queenstown’s Ice Arena.

But before the season even begins, the team has made a splash by attracting more high calibre imports to a roster that boasts several Ice Blacks including Matt Schneider, Callum Burns, Connor Harrison, and Stefan Amston.

The new Stampede imports for the 2018 season are as follows. Spoiler alert: two are Memorial Cup champions.

Stephen Johnston
The 6-foot-1 left winger from Guelph, Ontario could be one of the biggest ‘gets’ of the season as Johnston comes to the NZIHL with an impressive career in the Ontario Hockey League, along with five years of U Sports with the Saint Mary’s University Huskies.

To say winning the Memorial Cup is ‘impressive’ is putting it lightly when you consider what teams have to go through to win. The competition is whittled down from sixty eligible teams to the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL champions, plus the tournament’s host team. But in 2010 Johnston did exactly that with his Windsor Spitfires by defeating the Brandon Wheat Kings 9-1. Other notable members of that championship team include Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Ryan Ellis, and Cam Fowler – no wonder they won by such a large margin. Talk about a stacked lineup!

While his major junior career began with the Belleville Bulls, Johnston was part of a deadline blockbuster trade in the 2009-10 season that saw him go to Windsor with Marc Cantin and Philipp Grubauer (now the Washington Capitals backup goalie) in exchange for Richard Panik, Austen Brassard, Paul Bezzo, Steve Gleeson, plus draft picks.

Johnston was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in the sixth round but never signed with the team and resumed playing for the Spitfires. But the Red Wings did make this sweet highlight package of the winger during the team’s rookie camp.

Last year Johnston played in the AIHL putting up big numbers for the Sydney Ice Dogs. In 23 games he scored 12 goals and 24 assists. If he’s able to recreate such a high level of offensive production in the NZIHL, well… that would be a dream for the Stampede and quite frankly, a nightmare for everyone else.


Photo: Windsor Star.

Kory Helowka
Kory’s hockey resume suggests that he’s quite the journeyman, enjoying a season or two with one team before moving on to new horizons. The 6-foot-1 defenceman has played in the OHL and OPJHL before playing professionally in Germany, France, Sweden, and the SPHL.

He most recently played competitively in the 2015-16 Federal Hockey League season for the Danbury Titans, scoring 28 points in 27 games. Prior to that, the native of Newmarket, Ontario played down under in the AIHL for the Adelaide Adrenaline averaging 1.57 points per game.

Labelled as a ‘hard-hitting blue liner’ by the Skycity Stampede, to have an impact Helowka will need to contribute to a Queenstown defence that withheld its opponents to only 42 goals last season – the fewest allowed in the league.

It seems like Helowka isn’t afraid to be on-camera to talk hockey either. The import will be giving Stampede fans a behind-the-scenes look at life in the NZIHL with weekly updates  – look out for those videos on the team’s Facebook page throughout the upcoming season.

Here’s a taste…

Patrick Volpe
Fans of the Stampede will be familiar with the name – Adrian Volpe was in goal for the team during their 2015 and 2016 championship runs.

Younger brother Patrick has been following in the footsteps of his sibling during his career. Both played for the Brock University Badgers and now he’s looking to carry on the beloved family name in Queenstown.

Patrick has 32 games under his belt in the OHL, playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2010-11. Current Toronto Marlies GM Kyle Dubas would take over the team the following season, while the 6-foot-3 defender moved onto the Shawinigan Cataractes in the QMJHL for a further 24 games, including a Memorial Cup victory that year.

He lists his favourite food as tacos, so he’ll feel right at home when he discovers Queenstown’s Taco Medic – perhaps they can add some special ingredients and name a taco after him? The Volpe Taco, I’d try that.

Ryan Strayer, Mike McRae and Colin McIntosh are back for another season, swapping games in the fourth import slot. Under current NZIHL rules, teams can only dress four imports per game.

Their first games of the season will be a Finals rematch against the West Auckland Admirals at Paradice Avondale on June 2-3, but the Stampede faithful will get to see the team’s new imports in action on June 15 when they raise their latest championship banner before hosting the Dunedin Thunder.

Previously in Puck Yeah’s ‘Import Report’ series, we looked at who’s joining the West Auckland Admirals, Botany Swarm, and the Canterbury Red Devils – catch up here.

Main photo: Kate Harrison