FIFE Flyers are about to embark on their second Elite League campaign, but for Todd Dutiaume, it feels like a fresh start.
The player-coach looked around his depleted dressing room last season and felt like he had one hand tied behind his back.
But having undergone something of a summer transformation, both on and off the ice, Dutiaume believes the club is ready to right the wrongs of last year’s failed campaign.
They will begin the season with nine imports - three more than at the start of last year - giving them a more competitive edge from day one.
Top scoring Scot John Dolan has also been pinched from Dundee - a key signing on paper - while the home-grown players, thrown in at the deep end last season, now have a year’s Elite experience behind them.
There is also the matter of a new modern home dressing room, and a more professional infrastructure for what the club regards as its 75th season.
The first puck of the new season will drop this weekend in the Scottish Autumn Cup taking place at Fife Ice Arena, before the ‘real’ action gets underway next weekend.
Dutiaume is confident that he can deliver a winning team.
“Last year we were always behind the game because of the late entry to the league and all the work that entailed,” he said.
“I knew the direction the directors were taking so I didn’t go into it naively, but on most nights it felt like I had one arm tied behind my back.
“Now it feels like we have an incredible number of options.
“We can juggle lines around and if a guy is not performing he can take a seat and hopefully learn from his mistakes.
“There’s more pressure on guys to perform, but they are excited about that because every player wants to be pushed to be the best he can.
“With nine imports we’ll still be on or two imports down on most other teams, but with the improvements that we’ve made, and the experience the guys have gathered, we’re going to have well-rounded squad that, on most nights, will be able to compete and win hockey games.”
It took Flyers 15 attempts to win their first Elite League game last year - a wait Dutiaume does not expect to repeat.
“Not only do we have our full squad together right off the bat, we’ll also have a good week and a half of training, and a few exhibition games under our belts,” he said.
“You can get caught up in a losing mentality – and that’s one of the reasons why we brought in a lot of fresh faces.
“We’ve brought in guys who can make the dressing room a comfortable place, but also a winning place.
“It feels like we’re starting afresh, and a successful weekend in the Autumn Cup can really set the pace for us.
“The goal of the organisation is to make our 75th season a successful one, and hopefully we can make that a reality.”
This season’s Elite League will be split into two conferences, with Flyers competing in the Gardiner Conference alongside Edinburgh, Braehead, Dundee and Hull.
The Erhardt Conference consists of Belfast, Nottingham, Sheffield, Cardiff and Coventry. Teams in the same conference will face each other four times home and away, and those in the other conference twice home and away.
Dutiaume will be aiming to take points from teams in both divisions.
“We didn’t beat any of the top teams last year – and that was a goal of ours,” he said.
“It will be even tougher this year, because of some incredible signings across that division and the extra import as well, but we’ll have a better chance of beating them this year with the team we have.
“We’re just going to have to come out and be little more aggressive than we were last year.
“We ended up playing a little negative and although it isn’t always the most interesting to watch, we did what it took to survive. Hopefully people will see a bit more offensive flair from us this year.”
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