Allan Crow on a new ice hockey season, and a new chapter in the history of Fife Flyers ...
“We know that hockey is where we live, where we can best meet and overcome pain and wrong and death. Life is just a place where we spend time between games.”
The words of Fred “The Fog” Shero sum up the sense of anticipation among players and fans as a new ice hockey season dawns.
Days before the first puck is dropped, the first glove is dropped and the first red light is flashed, there’s a sense of excitement that spreads from the locker room to the stands.
Right now, the guys are doing what they always do in August - shaking the rust off their skates, welcoming newcomers to the dressing-room and creating the bonds that will determine how high this team can soar.
As the coach of the legendary Philadelphia Flyers at the very height of their Broadstreet Bullies fame, Shero knew the ritual better than most.
Despite his Stanley Cup team’s infamous reputation he insisted he never sent them, out to fight - only to play with aggression, hit hard and take the body. The very essence of hockey.
He also knew how to lead and motivate, often putting messages up on the board for his players to read, digest, and apply.
‘‘Win today and we will walk together forever’’ he once famously said. The essence of team-work - the single quality that separates hockey’s champions from those who don’t, can’t and probably never will make the play-offs.
For Fife Flyers - a team almost 40 years older than their Philly counterparts - season 2013-14 has an extra reason to be special. It’s the club’s 75th anniversary.
The rails which run along the front of the stands are exactly as they were in 1938 when the club’s first ever imports - guys like Les Lovell Senior, Tommy Durling, Len McCartney and Chick Kerr - took to the new ice for the very first time.
The art deco doors in the foyer also remain, and have swung open countless times to admit another batch of players, some of whom have become heroes and part of the town’s sporting history.
Every generation of fans will have its own heroes - Scrutton and Snider, Stoyanovich and Brown, Lukac and Figala, Smail and Morrison. The guys who goals, saves and big hits sparked great wins and epic comebacks.
This week another group of new names will arrive with kit bags over their shoulder and sticks in hand. The ritual has gone on almost every August for seven decades.
Their predecessors sailed into the UK, and stood out because they ‘‘talked funny’’ dressed sharper and flipped nickels to the kids who hung around the rink, and whether they stayed one season or a lifetime, they all commented on the warm welcome in what they all came to regard as a true hockey town - one with an ice pad that, until recently, boasted no plexi, just like the old-style rinks ‘‘back home.’’
That same Fife welcome will be evident this Saturday as Flyers introduce the guys who will skate as part of their anniversary team.
The ovation will be warm, the support instant, and the clamour for autographs and pictures afterwards will spark the usual post-game crowds around the dressing-room door.
Hockey is where they - fans and players - live.
And the dying embers of August always mean it’s hockey night once again ...
>> Fife Flyers v Dundee Stars, Fifer Ice Arena, Saturday 7.15 p.m.
>> Read Matthew Elder’s preview in this week’s Fife Free Press