21 rd qtn

ADVANTAGE: DEVILS

Saturday 15, August 2015 - Red Devils

Aug 15, 2015 - The defending Birgel Cup champion Canterbury Red Devils won Game 1 of the 2015 NZIHL Finals 5-3, in a fast-paced and thrilling match against the Southern Stampede.

The two teams will meet again in Queenstown on Friday 21st August for game 2. A win for the Stampede would mean a winner-takes-all game 3 in Queenstown on Saturday, while a win for the Devils would secure their NZIHL record 5th championship.

The first game of the 2015 Birgel Cup Final got off to a high-flying start at Alpine Ice Sports in Christchurch. The defending champion Canterbury Red Devils edged past the Southern Stampede to take the first match of the three-game series.

The game began with a brief ceremony to congratulate longtime Canterbury Ice Hockey contributor and current Red Devils captain Hayden Argyle, who has announced he’ll be hanging up his skates at the end of these playoffs. Argyle and his family were gifted season tickets for next year’s Devils games, and he contributed to his team in a huge way during his final home game at Alpine.

Period 1 saw fast, tight, end-to-end hockey from both sides. While the Stampede appeared to hold an early advantage on puck possession, they also took more penalties. Both Mike McRae and Cameron Frear spent two minutes in the box, although the Devils’ power play couldn’t break through. Peter Kopecky took a minor penalty for the Devils as well, but the Stampede power play struggled to generate shots on Canterbury goaltender Daniel Lee.

After 20 minutes of play, the score was nil all.

Scoring opened up early in the second period. Recent Devils acquisition Alexandr Polozov caught Stampede netminder Aston Brookes off guard courtesy of a slick pass from his captain Hayden Argyle.

But the Devils couldn’t get too comfortable straight away, as the Stampede struck back less than a minute later. Greg Collins evened things up off a feed from Mike McRae, who has been a playmaking difference for the Stampede time and again this year. Unfortunately for the Stampede, the next several minutes were all Devils.

Polozov found the scoresheet again, this time setting up a play for Dean Tonks, who continued his strong showing from the regular season. Tonks slipped the puck past Brookes to give the Devils a 2-1 lead.

The Devils got another chance on the power play when Stampede captain Bert Haines was sent to the box for a hooking call and this time they made it count. The power play goal came courtesy of former Stampede veteran Brett Speirs, who suited up in the latter games of the season for Canterbury and made an immediate impact. Devils Antti Ojanen and Jamie Lawrence were integral to setting up the play, which increased their lead to 3-1.

The officials had to keep a close eye on things around the 33 minute mark as tempers rose and things threatened to get out of hand. Stampede’s Jade Portwood and Devils Igor Cvetek served penalties in quick succession.

Canterbury widened their lead yet further when Hayden Argyle caught a funny rebound off Brookes’ pad and managed to tip the puck in. The goal was under review for some time as the puck collided with Argyle’s skate, but it was a clear deflection rather than a kick-in so the Devils went up 4-1.

On the same play as his goal, the officials sent Argyle to the box for cross-checking, and the Stampede’s power play found its legs. Standout forward Matt Schneider scored on the power play to begin their comeback attempt.

The Stampede pulled within one as the second period died down when a defensive lapse by the Devils left Portwood all alone in front of the net, where he collected a pass from Greg Collins for the easy tap-in past Lee.

At the 40 minute mark, the Stampede had narrowed the Devils’ lead to a single goal, but they couldn’t quite seal the deal in the third.

Period three was much closer to the action of the first 20 minutes: a lot of flying through the neutral zone, forced turnovers, and surprisingly few shots generated given the sheer offensive talent of these two teams. Lee made some quick, important saves to hold the Stampede to three goals despite the Devils serving the period’s only penalty.

Acting Stampede Head Coach Stephen Reid called their time-out with slightly under two minutes remaining and shortly after, Brookes headed to the bench to give the Stampede the extra attacker. But it wasn’t in the cards for the Queenstown team as Tonks scored an empty-net goal for the Devils to put them up 5-3.

Of note, this was a low shooting game for both sides: 37 for the Devils and 33 for the Stampede. Both teams appeared to focus on breaking up plays and clogging up the middle ice. It’s too soon to say whether we’ll see more of the same when the series moves to Queenstown, but one thing is for certain: after next weekend, we’ll know the champions of the 2015 NZIHL season. The series recommences on Friday night and puck drop is at 7:00pm at Queenstown Ice Arena.

Three stars of the game:

1. Hayden Argyle (1G, 1A)
2. Daniel Lee (30 saves)
3. Greg Collins (1G, 2A)

Full game statistics can be >found here.

Tonight’s match was livestreamed and can be watched on NZIHL.tv

Match report courtesy of Casey Lucas

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