Fife Flyers coach Todd Dutiaume has shrugged off the loss of fans’ favourite Matt Nickerson, insisting the club can move forward without him.
Nickerson was confirmed as a Belfast Giants signing last week, bringing to an end the big American’s two-year spell as a cult hero in Fife.
The 30-year-old defenceman was hugely popular among Fife fans, not only for his tough playing style but also his iconic beard, which featured heavily on club merchandise.
However, after a difficult season, both on the ice and behind the scenes, the Kirkcaldy club and Nickerson have now parted ways.
Dutiaume insists the club will move on.
“Every year players come and go – that’s hockey,” Dutiaume said.
“Guys move on – but we’ve got to look at the bigger picture.
“We didn’t close the door on Matt – but he decided to go to another team. That’s the nature of the business.
“Matt joins that list of players that achieved cult status in Fife and we hope he does well in his future career.
“But we’re only looking forward.
“Our priority is to make us a better hockey club, and a more committed and hard-working team.”
Flyers have lost one of the Elite League’s hardest enforcers, but Dutiaume does not feel the need to move for a like-for-like replacement this summer.
“We won’t be looking for one big, tough individual – we’re looking for more grit throughout the whole side,” he said.
“We want a team of guys willing to go to dirty areas, not shying away from pucks, pushing hard on the fore-check and skating shoulder to shoulder with team mates on the ice.
“A team toughness and belief in each other is the formula we’re going to shoot for and that will go a long way towards making us a more successful side.
“You can’t have one physical player out there – you need everyone to buy into the mentality that this team does not back down to anybody.”
Nickerson’s departure follows hot on the heels of last season’s top scorer Ned Lukacevic’s move to Coventry Blaze, and Dutiaume hinted that more of last season’s roster could also be on the way out.
“There probably will be a high-ish turnover,” he said.
With two high-profile departures, Flyers fans are growing increasingly keen for signing news but Dutiaume called for patience, insisting plenty work is ongoing behind the scenes.
“It’s a long summer and I appreciate people get anxious, but just because there hasn’t been any annoucements doesn’t mean nothing is happening,” he said.
“Recruitment is coming along great – we’re quite pleased with it – and it looks like it’s going to be a busy summer.
“We’re doing a lot more homework on guys’ character in the dressing room.
“We need players who know how to grind out games when things are not going our way.
“Having leaders in the dressing room this year is going to be key to our club.
“Guys who will grab the team by the boots and propel us forwards.
“Not just Cs and As, but guys who set an example for others to follow, and we’re making good progress on that so far.
“Once we’re in a position to make announcements, there will be plenty for people to read about.”