FIFE Flyers fans who supported the club in the 1980s may be surprised to hear that former idol Steve Moria has only just retired from playing ice hockey.
After all, he was only three years away from turning 30 when he left the Kirkcaldy club to sign for Cardiff Devils way back in 1987.
But only now, 25 years further on, has the Vancouver forward decided to hang up his skates at the ripe old age of 51 – a remarkable achievement in such a physically demanding sport – after ending the 2011/12 season as player-coach of Basingstoke Bison.
Flyers fans of a certain age fondly recall Moria’s time at the club – and little wonder when you consider his remarkable statistics.
Over a season and a half, he made 70 appearances in the old Heineken League, scoring an incredible 405 points, made up of 148 goals and 257 assists.
It was midway through the 1986-87 season when Moria arrived in Fife after deciding that his future lay away from his homeland.
Speaking to the Press this week, Moria recalled: “I was playing in the American Hockey League at the time and mid-season I decided I wanted to go over to Europe.
“The plan was to go play in Switzerland but it fell through. However, around the same time the general manager of New Haven Nighthawks received a call from Al Sims, an ex-NHL player at Fife Flyers.
“They were looking for players to go over there and because the New Haven general manager knew I was looking to move to Europe he put me in touch.
“I didn’t even know that hockey was played in Scotland but I thought I would give it a go for half a season then move into Europe the following season.”
However, after his half season in Fife, Moria fell in love with the British game, and decided to scrap plans to play in Europe to return to Kirkcaldy the following season.
“I really liked it up in Fife,” he said. “There was a real community spirit and the people there really embraced their hockey.
“At that time that old rink was packed most nights and some games were even sell outs. I really enjoyed my time there.
“On the playing side, imports were asked to play 40 to 45 minutes a night which was unheard of back home and really quite bizarre – but I loved the ice time.
“I got hooked on the whole atmosphere of Fife and the style of hockey in the UK and decided to re-sign the following season.”
Moria arrived during the Heineken era where the top league in the UK had a three-import quota and Flyers often played in front of sell-out crowds.
“Chic Cottrell was the coach when I arrived and he was a great leader, and a great person,” Moria said.
“We also had Gordon Latto, who was a player I really admired. He was a natural athlete and a gifted hockey player.
“There was also a few promising young kids coming through like Dean Edminston and Bobby Haig. It was great to see them develop their game while I was there.
“We didn’t win the grand prize of the Heineken League but we had a strong team – and a big rivalry with Murrayfield. Those games were so intense and always closely contested.
“My craziest memory is probably only two or three weeks after I signed when we went down to Whitley Bay on a freezing cold day and the bus broke down.
“There was 10 of us all outside trying to get this bus moving again.
“Fife definitely has a special place in my heart. It was the start of it all for me, and it was a great time.”
Moria left in the summer of 1988 to sign for Cardiff Devils, who he would go on to serve for 10 years – but his contribution to Fife was never forgotten.
His former coach Cottrell said: “A lot of the time when you’re signing imports you didn’t really know what you were getting, but luckily we had Simsy, who had good contacts, and he came up with Moria.
“When he arrived he made his debut in Telford on the Sunday night and got something ridiculous like nine points and then apologised for being jet-lagged!
“He was an unassuming type of guys who always gave 100 per cent. He has an unbelievable vision for the game.
“If he was bigger built or taller I don’t think we would have been blessed to see his talents in the UK because he could’ve gone to the NHL.
“I didn’t get to work with him for too long because there was a change in coaching staff that year, but we’ve always kept in touch.
“It’s a credit to his fitness and ability that he has played up until the age of 51.
“There’s not many sports where guys like that are still around, and if you look at his stats for the year just past, I would bet they’re still good.”
Indeed they are, with 26 goals and 39 assists making Moria one of the top performers in the English Premier League (EPL) last term.
Steve puts his longevity down to his commitment and love for the game, however, he feels now is the right time to retire.
“I plan to stay in the UK, but at this stage I’m retired and have no plans to be involved in hockey next season,” he said.
“Even at my age I think I can still play – and play well – but the schedule of games really takes its toll on me.
“I wanted this to be my last year of playing so I announced my retirement early enough so teams wouldn’t come for me and tempt me with any offers.
“Maybe someday I’ll get back to hockey, but for now I’m just relaxing and not thinking about hockey at all.”
After a career spanning 33 years and 13 clubs, it’s a rest he has most certainly earned.
TO celebrate Steve Moria’s career, there will be a testimonial game at the Basingstoke Arena before the start of the 2012/13 season.
A Mo19’s team will take on the Basingstoke Bison in a special match to mark the end of an incredible career. As part of the event, Steve has launched an official testimonial website for fans to keep in touch with all the news at www.stevemoria.co.uk. Steve added: “I know Fife is a long way from Basingstoke, but it would be great to see some old friends again.”