Flyers v Clan - hockey with an edge

Danny Stewart reacts to Zach Fiitzgerald
Danny Stewart reacts to Zach Fiitzgerald

Every ice hockey season produces a rivalry with an intensity no others can match - games played so close to the edge you daren’t take your eyes off the ice pad for a second.

In the case of Fife Flyers, the combatants have changed over the decades - Dunfermline Vikings, Murrayfield Racers, and Paisley Pirates have all produced pulsating hockey nights in Kirkcaldy and on the road.

Matt Nickerson fights Zach Fitzgerald. Fife Flyers v Braehead Clan. Saturday, September 27, 2014. Pic: Steve Gunn

Matt Nickerson fights Zach Fitzgerald. Fife Flyers v Braehead Clan. Saturday, September 27, 2014. Pic: Steve Gunn

To that list we now add Braehead Clan.

Their head to heads in 2013-14 and again last season were electrifying, uncompromising, and occasionally ragged but always packed with talking points and played out with an intensity you can almost taste.

Hockey nights which electrify the stands are special, and Flyers-Clan head to heads are as good as anything Flyers and Racers ever served up in the Heineken era. They are that intense.

The bar was set high as both clubs surged to the play-off finals weekend in 2013-14.

Overnight, their games became the hottest tickets in town with full houses in Kirkcaldy and at Braehead, with two sets of vocal, deeply polarised fans creating the perfect backdrop for what can only be described as sporting theatre.

We had the sideshow of Chris Frank and Matt Nickerson trash talking around each other - Frank happy to noise the big man up, while Nickerson was more willing to settle it with gloves off.

After his destruction of poor Kevin Bergen, he was still buzzing after the game. ‘’Should have been Frankie’’ he said with a shake of the head. ‘’Should’ve been Frankie...’’

We’ve had tit-for-tat exchanges off the ice, moments of real antagonism on it, and rumblings between team benches and fans, but we’ve also shifted to the very edge of our seats, captivated by games of the highest calibre filled with breath-taking plays and crucial goals; games which, regardless of the results, sent two sets of fans buzzing into the cold night air.

There is much, much more to the intensity between Flyers and Clan than the gum bumping.

These are two seriously competitive hockey teams roared on by two great, passionate and vocal supports.

There is absolutely no doubt that Clan had Flyers number for most of last season.

Ryan Finnerty’s side may have lost the initial match up 12 months ago, but they quickly grabbed Flyers by the scruff of the neck and held them there for the rest of the head to heads.

They were the better team - no doubt about it. Smarter, sharper and more successful as they surged to within distance of the league title.

But that has been re-set to zero. A new season and both sides have completely overhauled their line-ups.

It’ll be fascinating to see how the dice roll in 2015-16.

Clan come to Kirkcaldy this weekend on the back of a genuinely thrilling and exciting Champions Hockey League adventure which included a stunning 6-4 win over German outfit ERC Ingolstadt - - a team based, ironically, in Kirkcaldy’s twin town. You can guess which one Flyers fans were rooting for …

Clan set the bar for Scottish hockey, if not the EIHL, with the work off the ice too, particularly with the media where they tapped into everything from Twitter to the tabloids with an impressive level of professionalism.

Their key summer signing announcements all had a buzz which could be felt zapping throughout the west coast fan base.

Acquiring the services of three former NHLers certainly helped generate a real ‘wow’ factor - anyone who signs a player with a Stanley Cup ring deserves that level of response. And respect.

Ric Jackman comes to Kirkcaldy this weekend for the very first time.

He’s far from the first NHLer to set his skates down on ice in Kirkcaldy - Doug Smail and Laurie Boschman blazed that trail 20 years ago - but with a career which took him from Boston to Toronto, Florida, Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Dallas this is a defenceman you really want to see.

If Jackman follows Smail’s approach and embraces British hockey in all its glorious chaos, then he will surely be just as big a hit and every bit as influential.

His presence in the room alone could be hugely influential - how many pro hockey players get to ice with an NHLer of his standing, let alone turn to their right and encounter a former Vancouver Canuck, Nathan McIver, or glance across the room to outstanding team leader Matt Keith, ex-Chicago Blackhawk?

If these guys gel from day one, Clan will surely mount a very serious threat to Sheffield’s league title.

But hockey’s a fickle beast, and four weeks playing on the road, starting this weekend, will certainly test those early bonds, and the guys who skated here last season will know that coming to Fife for game one is a double edged sword.

It guarantees pumped up hockey, but it’s also one of the hardest places for a team to come and win when the rink rouses itself to full voice.

Defenceman Scott Aarssen summed it neatly when interviewed on the Clan’s website this week.

‘’The Fife fans pack that rink, especially when we play there and they can be all over you, but it’s fun to play in and the rivalry that’s been created is a good one.

“There are a few other rinks that can get pretty intense, but not only are their support incredibly passionate, the team gets a lift from it and increases their level of play.

“We’ve already spoken to a few of the new guys about what to expect and told them to be prepared for a hostile environment.

“It’s a fun way to start the new season, that’s for sure.’’

And hockey players - whether they come from the NHL or the minors - wouldn’t have it any other way.

These games are the ones that get the adrenalin flowing and the stands full to capacity.

May they never lose their edge.