Hockey Hogmanay - perfect stage for Flyers & Caps

Mike Ware (Murrayfield Racers) and Ryan Kummu (Fife Flyers)  in a 1994 ice hockey game. Netminder is Moray Hanson
Mike Ware (Murrayfield Racers) and Ryan Kummu (Fife Flyers) in a 1994 ice hockey game. Netminder is Moray Hanson
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There’s something rather special about a Hockey Hogmanay. It’s more than just another game and more than just another match night.

The holiday season usually means bumper crowds and a chance to meet up with friends rinkside.

Murrayfield Racers v Fife Flyers ice hockey match at Murrayfield ice rink, April 1993. Racers' Mike Newberry celebrates a goal.

Murrayfield Racers v Fife Flyers ice hockey match at Murrayfield ice rink, April 1993. Racers' Mike Newberry celebrates a goal.

Hogmanay itself also adds its own sense of occasion to the atmosphere, and, more often than not, you get a cracking game - often one of the ‘blood and snotters’ type which has everyone roaring full throttle in the stands before heading home to get ready to bring in the bells.

Those end of year games have seen many opposing teams come and go - for a while Fife and Paisley went full throttle, then it was up to Dundee, while, if you rewind further the competition even included teams such as Peterborough.

They came up to Fife for the very last game of 1999 and were turned over.

To mark the new Millennium we had a wheezer of an idea to set off an indoor firework every time Flyers scored to make it a real party night. The rehearsal worked fine. We just didn’t factor in the possibility of Fife netting five goals in barely than two minutes in one of those epic comebacks which leave away teams seething, and the old barn rocking.

Russell Monteith (Fife Flyers) surrounded by Murrayfield Racers players Scott Plews, Angelo Catenaro &Tony Malm

Russell Monteith (Fife Flyers) surrounded by Murrayfield Racers players Scott Plews, Angelo Catenaro &Tony Malm

All the emergency doors had to be opened to let the smoke out and the game continue - and the red mist pouring out of a furious Randy Smith, Pirates’ player-coach, didn’t really help matters either as he stormed into the dressing room officially ‘‘no’ happy.’’

Glorious mayhem and a wonderful night of hockey - and only remotely possible in Fife.

And absolutely only possible on Hogmanay when everyone is up for a great night out.

Since returning to the EIHL, Flyers and Edinburgh, the oldest of hockey rivalries, have created a new Hockey Hogmanay tradition - and it remains the perfect stage for a derby that, while it may not match the attendances of Sheffield v Nottingham, still retains the right to bill itself the greatest in UK hockey. One that doesn’’t need the whiff of hype to generate excitement either ...

Fife are always the first foots on Hockey Hogmanay. It’s an easy journey and the afternoon face-off works for everyone - players and fans alike who can enjoy a cracking game and then be where they want to be in plenty of time for ‘Only An Excuse’ on the telly.

Looking back, it’s interesting to see how Fife hold the upper hand on Hockey Hogmanay.

They’ve won three of the four games in Edinburgh since 2011/12, and bagged the only shut out - the sort of info the team might welcome as they look at a dismal road record of three wins in 16 journeys this season.

Also of interest is just how tight all the games have been - three of the four producing one-goal winning margins.

Flyers started with a 5-4 shoot out victory in 20-11/12 and returned the following season to claim a 3-2 overtime win with Jeff Caister taking the MoM award.

In 2013-14 they went down 4-3 - Danny Stewart was MoM - while last year Kevin Regan backstopped them to a 2-0 shut-out

It’d come as no surprise to see this Hogmanay’s head to head produce just as close a contest.

The teams have met six times so far and Flyers lead the series 4-2 thanks largely to solid form on home ice.

On the road it’s been less straight forward with one win in three visits across the Forth… and the less said about those painful 5-4OT and 4-2 regular time losses the better.

But much has changed since those setbacks.

Fife have started to grind out the results that were eluding them on too many game nights.

They still aren’t posting big numbers on the scoreboard - take away the 8-3 win over Caps and Flyers have never filed more than five in any one game this season, and, worryingly, on ten occasions they have been held to just one goal - but the work ethic is back and some key players are starting to emerge across the ice pad.

The addition of Nico Sachetti can only improve the output in front of the net, and once that happens, this team should start to show what it can do. If it doesn’t then it’s gonna encounter some tricky hockey nights in 2016 ...

The wins, while perhaps not edge-of-your-seat stuff, are are keeping them in the top eight, and all they need is a short run of results to cement that place as the league starts to elongate.

Across the water, the early season glitter that showered down on Caps has dried up somewhat.

The autumn excitement of thrilling road wins and big scalps has been replaced be a harsh winter reality check.

Coach Riley Emmerson has certainly given Caps a bit of swagger this season with a roster that mixes grit and guile, and there is no doubt he’s given the fans something to shout about, but there’s a familiarity about how it is all starting to pan out as the losses mount - seven in a row in the league, five in the conference.

Now comes the real test of Emo’s squad.

They’re down to eighth and could slip further as games in hand become a factor.

They trail Flyers by four points in the standings, and the Fifers have three games in hand - and if Manchester Storm win their games in hand then Caps could end up at the foot of the table. That ain’t a place to be at the turn of the year.

So, a Hogmanay win is essential not only to stop the rot, but to tee them up for 2016 when everything gets a little more serious.

For Flyers, the points are just as precious as they aim to keep rolling game by game.

Right now they’re a team which wins at home but labours poorly on the road, particularly south of the border - it’s a bit like the old days, but hockey has changed dramatically since then and Flyers really have to adapt.

There was a time when they couldn’t buy a win in Edinburgh. They cracked through that barrier years ago.

They now need the Hogmanay form guide to prevail and deliver a win to usher out 2015 and welcome in 2016.