Flyers set for emotional weekend

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FIFE Ice Arena will observe a solemn silence this Saturday as Fife Flyers play their first home match since the tragic death of Kelly Dutiaume.

Thousands of ice hockey fans across the UK paid tribute to 38-year-old Kelly, the wife of player-coach Todd, at the weekend, whose sudden passing last week along with the couple’s unborn twins, shocked the sport.

Flyers opponents last Saturday - Nottingham Panthers - held a lengthy standing ovation, and raised £4000 for the Dutiaume family, with other Elite League teams also expected to make donations.

The entire Flyers team will attend Kelly’s funeral at Kirkcaldy Crematorium on Friday, before joining supporters in a minute’s silence prior to their match against Dundee Stars the following day.

Assistant-coach Danny Stewart, currently leading the team in Dutiaume’s abscence, admitted it will be a difficult weekend for everyone at the club.

“It will definitely be an emotional night and we all have to do our best to channel that into our play,” he said.

“It’ll be a tough night, but the guys are professionals and have to find a way to battle and scrape out a result.

“If the guys come out the dressing room and see the building packed it will uplift the spirits so much.

“Everyone of us will be at the funeral on Friday.

“Hamish Gordon has been generous enough to offer us the bus, so we’ll go as a team and show our respects together.”

Flyers netminder Garrett Zemlak admitted that it has been difficult to put hockey first.

“People here have been really touched and affected by what happened,” he said.

“Dutes has been a hero and a legend here for a long time, and to see someone with a pedigree like that, and such a nice guy, having to deal with this is horrible.

“No one can say the right thing or the wrong thing because none of us can imagine going through that.

“Friday will be emotional but we have to be professionals and that’s what a lot of the guys are realising now.

“I’m sure there will be a big crowd on Saturday and they’ll show the love and support for this club - and we’ll look to give it back. We also have to win.”

After taking on Dundee on Saturday, Flyers travel to Coventry 24 hours later before returning to the Kirkcaldy ice rink for the visit of Hull on Tuesday night.

Last Saturday, Flyers’ remarkable display of courage in the face of tragedy went unrewarded following a controversial refereeing decision 30 seconds from time.

In their first match since Kelly’s death, the under-strength Kirkcaldy team were locked at 3-3 with Nottingham and heading for overtime when match official Tom Darnell made a hotly disputed call that decided the game.

Darnell awarded Panthers a penalty shot after Flyers defenceman Thomas Muir collided with the nets, knocking them from their moorings, and Panthers sniper David Beauregard made the most of the chance, shooting past a furious Zemlak to win the game.

The Fife goalie said: “My net kept coming off in the third period, then in the last minute Thomas Muir blew a tyre and fell into the net.

“The play was moving up ice, but the ref called a penalty shot – why would you do that with 30 seconds left in a hard fought 3-3 game?

“Let us kill a penalty for 30 seconds and get a point in overtime. It was an emotional game, we’d worked so hard, and it was a really brutal call to make.

“Maybe he’s just not an experienced enough referee at this level.”

Flyers assistant-coach Danny Stewart was involved in a heated exchange with the referee as the players left the ice.

He added: “You don’t like to blame the course of the game on one call, but most times if there’s a bad call you have time to react and come back.

“But when you’ve played maybe your best game of the year, and you get a penalty shot against you with 30 seconds left, that’s a tough one to swallow.

“The guys were very down after the game – they were tired, emotional, and they felt cheated.”

Stewart, meanwhile, insists Flyers’ play-offs aspirations are not over yet despite defeat in the make-or-break match in Hull on Sunday.

The 7-5 loss, coupled with Edinburgh’s win over Dundee, has left the Flyers nine points behind in the race for eighth place with just seven games left.

Stewart said: “Until we are mathematically out of it, we’re still going to shoot for that play off spot.

“I’d be kidding people if I said it wasn’t going to be a very tough ask, but we definitely want to finish ahead of Dundee.

“Our first goal is to pass them in the standings and see where we are after that, and how many games we have left.

“Then if we pick up a couple of wins and get on a run we’ll maybe make it close.”

Flyers will be without captain Dan Ceman this weekend, who suffered a separated shoulder in the defeat to Nottingham, while Tim Maxwell is also doubtful with concussion.

With the grieving Dutiaume also absent, the team could be down to just six imports – and 13 skaters – for the crucial run of games.