Woah, we’re halfway there
Woah, we’re livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear
Woah, we’re living’ on a prayer!
As the NZIHL rolls into the fifth round, we have reached the halfway point of the season, but the picture of how the playoffs could look is still murky.
Coming off the high of having the West Auckland Admirals and Botany Swarm duel at Spark Arena with what might be the largest crowd ever for a regular season NZIHL game, some teams will feel more rested having used that extra week to attend to their injuries, but the league is back and in full-swing as it charges towards the back straight.
Swarm v Stampede @ Queenstown Ice Arena
While the Skycity Stampede had a few players on the Ice Blacks and NZIHL All-Stars rosters that were scheduled to play at Westpac Stadium, the outdoor game never eventuated due to unfortunate circumstances. So with a week off, the Queenstown club will be amped to drop the puck on Friday night.
The town is buzzing having just hosted USA v Canada for the final leg of New Zealand’s portion of the 2018 Ice Hockey Classic tour, with only more great hockey to come as the Stampede host the Botany Swarm.
Botany are currently second in the standings but they come into this week with a three-game losing streak on their shoulders. The key to victory for the Swarm lies in their defensive game – they will need to shut down import Mike McRae who is currently on a tear, scoring 16 points in 6 games, including a hat-trick last round. Not to mention they will also need to contain captain Matt Schneider and Colin McIntosh – this week could really show Botany fans what their team is made of.
With the NZIHL introducing a 2nd seed v 3rd seed one-game playoff to decide the second finalist spot for the Birgel Cup, this has the potential to be a preview of that matchup.
Red Devils v Admirals @ Paradice Avondale
As far as living on a prayer goes, the Canterbury Red Devils are deep within ‘must-win’ territory to save their season.
Having won one game in their six contests to date, the Red Devils (and their goal differential) have been hurting after giving up high-scoring affairs to the Swarm, Thunder and Stampede. Now as they travel North again, they face the top of the league West Auckland Admirals.
The Admirals are riding a wave of momentum with a four-game winning streak, including the big win over the Swarm at Spark Arena, but to take this Canterbury team lightly would be a mistake that sees them losing crucial points as they push to secure home-ice advantage for the Finals.
The high-powered Red Devils duo of Chris Eaden and import Ross Venus will need to stay hot to give their team a chance, but with Admirals imports Mike Verschuren and Craig Peacock also burning up the scoreboard, who would want to be a goalie this week?
NZIHL Round 5 Game Schedule:
Botany Swarm v Skycity Stampede – Queenstown Ice Arena
June 29th & 30th at 7:00pm
Canterbury Red Devils v West Auckland Admirals – Paradice Avondale
June 30th & July 1st at 4:40pm