A DISAPPOINTING weekend for Fife Flyers, but an encouraging one for Steven Gunn.
The Kirkcaldy forward was a stand-out performer in both defeats to Belfast Giants and Hull Stingrays, suggesting that after a slow start, he is beginning to find his feet in the Elite League.
Much was expected of the 26-year-old this season given his headline-grabbing performances in the Northern League, where he finished the top scorer last season with 38 goals and 15 assists from just 20 games.
Gunn has found life in the EIHL much tougher however, with just two goals to his name in 22 games thus far – although with more performances like Saturday’s that figure is sure to rise.
Gunn was in the thick of the action against Belfast, contributing to several good plays, and was unlucky not to score with some sharp shooting on occasions.
There was also a more physical edge to his game, to the extent that he dropped the gloves with Robert Dowd – a fight which prematurely ended his match as he required seven stitches in a facial cut after hitting his head off the ice.
Nonetheless, it was a performance that left player-coach Todd Dutiaume signing his praises.
“Gunny, for last five years, has been one of our offensive leaders – but this is a whole different level now,” Dutiaume said. “You’ve got to remember he came from Benarty Roller Hockey Club – this is success story that you don’t always see.
“He has no classical hockey training to speak of. He knows what position he plays but he doesn’t really know systems. But this season, he’s learning. He’s becoming a hockey player, and he’s feeling better for it.
“He didn’t start playing contact until later in his career. These are big guys he’s up against, who hit hard, and some guys shy away from it.
“But he’s starting to realise that he’s a strong guy too and that he can do this as well – and it’s good to see.
“He had a couple of great shots on net on Saturday and was unlucky not to score. He is hopefully developing into the player that we want him to.”
Gunn feels that he is becoming a better player in the EIHL, but hopes that the team can find some winning form soon.
“I’ve enjoyed the challenge, and I definitely prefer playing at this level, but it’s been hard because I’m not used to losing with the Flyers,” he said.
“We’ve lost more games this season than we have in the last six years. We knew it would take a wee bit of time for us to get used to this, but I’m definitely getting my confidence now, and I feel as though the goals will come.
“I’ve been working harder and skating harder because I’m getting fitter. I’m not getting caught behind the pace as much now. At first I was lucky to get one shot per game, but now I’m getting into positions to score more often.”
Gunn has been deployed on the second line this season, often alongside fellow locals Steven McAlpine, Iain Bowie and Andy Samuel, and it has been a tough ask to compete against opposition lines made up of top professional imports and established British internationals.
“As a line, we’ve not been losing many goals, the disappointing thing is that we haven’t been scoring many either,” Gunn said.
“Our first line has definitely picked up recently, so if we could chip in with the odd goal it could make a real difference to results.
“If more imports come in we’ll be able to spread them out over the top two lines, and I’m sure that will help the British players chip in with more goals.”
As well as adapting to a superior standard of hockey, Gunn has also had to learn to combine his full-time work as a Fife Council joiner with a pro hockey career.
He explained: “On Sunday we got back from Hull at 3.30 a.m and I was up for work again at half six.
“This Sunday we’re in Cardiff so I’ll probably have to take Monday as a holiday – but I don’t mind that because I’m doing something I love.”