THEY found out the hard way about what life would be like in the Elite League, but with the league concluding in a matter of weeks, it’s time Fife Flyers stepped up to the plate.
Many would agree they’ve been a worthy addition to the league this season, replacing the cash-stricken Newcastle Vipers and they’ve gained some new admirers along the way, including Sky Sports’ Dave Simms.
Now to achieve what seemed the impossible a few short weeks ago, they must step it up and show just why the Elite League invited them on board.
The Kirkcaldy side got a few harsh lessons at this level at the start of the season, losing heavily by eight or more goals to Coventry, Belfast, Nottingham and even Braehead took ten off them one night.
But as the weeks have gone by and coach Todd Dutiaume has added to the squad, we’ve started to see flashes of what they’re all about. The fans can feel that play-off place is within touching distance.
On Saturday they host Braehead at home and it’s a team the Flyers have shown they are capable of handling, being the only team from the bottom half of the league to beat them at home.
In Kirkcaldy, the last couple of matches have been tough contests, with the Fifers edged out on penalty shots over a week ago and the Flyers were actually winning 5-1 in a match in early December before Clan got it back to a more respectable 5-4 defeat.
This is a game Dutiaume’s side must win to maintain any hope of being involved beyond the regular season and in a run over the coming weeks that sees them go to Cardiff and Belfast then double headers with Sheffield then Nottingham, it makes it even more crucial.
The losses of Matt Siddall and Mike Hamilton were massive blows to the club at a time when things looked like starting to go for them, but the additions to the roster of Denis Kadic, Tim Maxwell, Dan Ceman and Frankie Bakrlik have been huge.
The return of Matt Cohen to the defence is crucial certainly, but it’s their defence overall that’s been a problem all season, leaking 176 goals – the worst in the league. If they didn’t have a goalie as consistent a performer as Garrett Zemlak, then it could have been far worse.
With 15 games left to play, they play teams in the table’s top half eight times and bottom half opponents seven times. However six of their last eight games are against bottom half sides, which might give them an advantage in the run-in.
Compare that to Edinburgh’s 16-game run-in that sees them play top half teams 12 times and bottom half sides only four and it gives them a little hope.
What they don’t need is performances like last weekend when they lost 5-1 at Coventry on Saturday then returned to Scotland on Sunday to be served up a 6-2 loss to Dundee Stars. Performances and defeats like that cannot be afforded anymore.
The experience of Danny Stewart and Ceman will be called upon also and if Ceman can score as regularly against other teams as he does against Dundee – five of his six Fife goals have came against the Stars – then the impossible becomes possible.
Edinburgh will be watching carefully just how their Scottish rivals will do and while the Stars have been more cold than hot this season, both before and after they sacked Ceman as their coach, it’s the Flyers who could have the momentum.
They’ve shown they have the guys capable of scoring the goals, but they need to keep them out and give themselves that chance.
As it stands it’s Edinburgh’s to lose and they will fight to keep a much coveted play-off place. For Fife, it would mean more than just a two-legged quarter final, it would be a massive culmination of a season where they’ve had to learn and adjust quickly and efficiently.
The incentive is certainly there for the Fifers and the fans have started to believe at last. Now the players have to take that belief and take it to the next level and fire a message that Fife Flyers have indeed finally arrived at Elite League level.
TOMS HARTMANIS PHOTO COURTESY OF DEREK BLACK (www.centre-ice.co.uk)