Fife Flyers return to the ice this weekend and head coach Todd Dutiaume is excited to see the potential within his new-look line-up.
Flyers have recruited eight new imports for the forthcoming Elite League season, with five returnees from the previous campaign, and one more still to find.
Players have been arriving throughout the week and Fife are expected to ice a side featuring 12 imports in this weekend’s exhibition games against German side EC Kassel Huskies.
Flyers will take on the DEL2 side on Saturday at 7.15pm before a repeat game at 6.30pm on Sunday.
The only player not expected to arrive in time is returning forward Carlo Finucci, who is due in next week, while the hunt goes on for a final D-man to complete the 14-import quota.
The club’s British contingent will also feature new faces, with back-up netminder Jordan Marr and forward Sean Beattie both joining from Edinburgh Capitals, while Chad Smith and Reece Cochrane have been promoted from junior development.
Dutiaume said: “We’re excited that we have the lion’s share of the guys all in at the same time, rather than in dribs and drabs.
“That was something we insisted upon, as well as having a three-week pre-season.
“That’s something I’ve never had the luxury of and means we can really take our time.
“We’ll be going out to win the games, but it also gives the coaching staff an opportunity to work on some things, see some of the new Brits in the line-up, some of the younger guys, and try out some line combinations and work on some systems.
“It’s a great position to be in as a coach, and for the new players it allows them time to learn the game before they are thrown in at the deep end, because it is different from North America.
“Our new guys are hungry, they want to be here and are excited to get the season going.
“I certainly like the vibe around the team right now. It’s a very positve one, and it generates that air of excitement around our dressing room.
“I hope that transfers onto the ice and into our crowd.”
After a late start to recruitment due to uncertainty over Flyers position within the Elite League, and missing out on early targets, Dutiaume admitted the he and assistant coach Jeff Hutchins have had a tough summer, but he is confident in the signings made.
“One word is hectic, another is frustrating, but we got there,” he said.
“We tried to find the right mix, and it was an incredibly busy summer. We didn’t just talk to 13 guys. We talked to a huge number of guys – all for different reasons.
“For some Britain wasn’t attractive because of Brexit and what’s become of the pound. A wage ten years ago doesn’t equate to a wage now.
“We have to work within a budget and I think we were very creative and got our money’s worth out of our players, and I’m happy with our guys. I’m not regretting a choice we’ve made.
“I would certainly ask people not to pass judgement on guys until they see them. I think we have an excellent group here, and most of what we promised throughout the recruiting process.
“We’re bigger, stronger, younger, grittier – and hard working.
“We could probably use a little bit more muscle but we’re working on that, and you can only work with the pool of players that are available to you.
“Throughout this busy summer I think both Jeff and myself have done a decent job at putting together a team that we’re happy to be the front men of, and I’m excited to see what they can do.”
One of the key aims of the summer was to build a younger side and with the average age dropping to 26 from 29 last season, this has been achieved.
“Getting a younger squad was important,” Dutiaume said. “I liked the team I had last year, but we ran into injury problems.
“It wasn’t just because we were an older squad but that came into it and come the end of a long weekend sometimes the legs weren’t always there.
“Younger guys recuperate quicker, and just have that little bit more jump.
“That was something we identified we wanted to do, and we’re pretty confident that’s going to transfer onto the ice.”
The recruitment process is not yet over with one more import slot in defence up for grabs, and while Dutiaume is keen to add some ‘muscle’, he is not prepared to pigeon-hole a specific type of target.
“There are twists and turns in recruitment,” he said. “You really have to be fluid with what you want.
“I think we’re a much more physical bunch, and we have a bit more size.
“Some muscle back there would help us out a bit, but so would a skilled defenceman.
“We really have to see what becomes available and who we’re competing against.
“If you try to steadfastly go after something that’s never going to show up, you’re on the outside looking in.
“You have to look at all the options in front of you and pick best one at the time.
“It seems to be a trend in British hockey right now where everyone wants an enforcer type.
“I can’t guarantee we’ll get one as we don’t know who will be available and who we can get.
“We’ve talked to a number of guys who are tough, and a number of guys who are skilled - and got neither.
“We’re working every day on it, and will continue to do so.
“I’m pretty confident come the regular season we’ll have a full squad.”
Flyers also made changes to their backroom staff this week with the addition of new performance director Rob Maguire and the appointment of full-time equipment manager Ian ‘Horse’ Kelly.
“It’s always been a vision of ours to have a working group in this dressing room,” Dutiaume said.
“All the people throughout all the years have played their part to getting us here. I can’t thank everybody enough who has got us to the point we’re at.
“But I was fortunate enough to convince directors that we needed a full-time equipment manager who would be there all day and night, and also Rob, who will be coming in to look after the performance and development of our off-ice programme.
“Off-ice has changed in the 20 years I’ve been here.
“When I came here I took myself down to the gym, had my own work out routine and I was satisfied with that and kept myself in good shape.
“Players now are more accustomed to team work outs and a more structured day and that’s something I really wanted to catch up on, and Rob’s going to provide that.
“That doesn’t mean we haven’t worked out for the last six years but it’s going to be a lot more visual, and people will get to see what happens behind the scenes.
“The reason Rob is on board is to bring us together as a team off the ice as well, and we’ll be doing team work outs and conditioning sessions.
“Guys will have a structured work week building towards the weekends.”