The drama and theatre of ice hockey’s play-offs

Fife Flyers fans  in huge number at Braehead (Pic: Steve Gunn)

Fife Flyers fans in huge number at Braehead (Pic: Steve Gunn)

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I love this time of the season. The intensity, the noise, and the emotion invested in every single moment of every single shift.

Sport is drama and theatre. Call it ‘the business end’ of the season’ if you must, but, on and off the ice it’s all about hopes and dreams.

There is nothing finer than seeing a rink erupt in celebration or sink in despair - often at the same time as a goal changes the entire direction of a game. One half screams with joy, the other sits in silent anxiety, thinking ‘’we’re okay, there’s time, it’s fine, just need to focus ’’ before findings its voice to rally their team for one more surge.

It takes all sorts to make a crowd - the noisy ones, the gobby ones, the ones who sit and simply watch, and the ones riddled with nervous energy who can’t sit still for longer than a single shift - but when they come together to form one huge support, one beautiful choir that sings with a passion rarely heard off outwith the Welsh valleys, buildings can be electrified.

I read a blogger state the other week that Cardiff’s rink was the most hostile in the UK; it was a building ‘’that breathed fire.’’

Veterans of the old Racers-Flyers days will simply nod in an ‘’aye right, pal’ motion, while a few will dust off their old Hockey News Reviews to present the case for Whitley-Durham showdowns of yore.

Truth is, they were all infernos from different eras, but the atmosphere at Fife Ice Arena on Saturday was something special. It was red hot; proof, once again that when the oldest rink in the league is roused, it is still the finest place to watch a hockey game.

When Kyle Haines pulled the trigger with 13 seconds remaining in Saturday’s game and blasted home Flyers’ winner, it was akin to a sonic boom - first, a second of silence, and then, a volcanic eruption of noise and sheer, unconfined joy.

The video posted on Twitter by a fan sat high above the curling bar captured the moment perfectly. As the camera dances around the rink all you can see are arms punching the air in delight, and everyone on their feet celebrating one of the most dramatic game-winning goals in recent years.

Even as the rink emptied, you could still sense the buzz of excitement. It took the fans almost as long to unwind as it did the players to let the adrenalin finally seep from their bodies.

But, when there’s a championship final place on the line, you cannot help but get caught up in the sheer excitement.

The wins are magnified, the losses bring a shutter slamming down on the entire season. There is no safety net.

One goal can turn a player into a legend - John Coyle played just 13 games for Flyers but it was his penalty shot that clinched the championship trophy down in Hull. He headed home, hung ‘em up and we never heard from him again, but he retains that legendary status. Forever.

As David Bowie sang ‘’we can be heroes - just for one day.’’

This final weekend of the 2015-2016 season may create more legends, and more moments we talk about for years to come.

That is what sport - playing it, watching it - is all about.

Flyers’ march to the play-off finals two seasons ago was thrilling to watch. Every night you saw a team with a steely focus on where it was going; one that held its nerve and blocked out all distractions and simply kept going. It was a team that gelled at the right time.

Two years on, Nottingham beckons once more. The parallels are there for all to see.

The journey from here on in promises to be enthralling, electrifying and, utterly nerve shredding.

And if it all comes together and we get to witness the moment the team lifts the silverware on centre ice - sticks, gloves and helmets all abandoned in celebration across the pad - then it’s a moment we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

And when that happens, sport becomes something incredible, something quite magical.

Bill Shankly, the wily old Liverpool manager, got pelters for saying football was more important than life or death.

He was wrong, of course, but, you know what, in those moments, he was spot on.

Last week, a colleague posted footage of Hibs fans celebrating their 2007 CIS Cup final victory.

The pitchside interviews were as banal as ever, but BBC did something lovely. It stopped talking and listened to the fans singing ‘Sunshine on Leith’ - The Proclaimers song that has become their anthem. It remains the single most uplifting, joyful and deeply moving moment ever broadcast from a football game in Scotland.

There’s a moment when manager John Collins stands centre of the pitch, a scarf draped round his shoulders, and simply listens. He’d lost his dad not long before. The song, its lyrics and the occasion combined so perfectly and so beautifully that it still moves you to tears.

And that’s what sport does. It infuses your heart and soul. It creates moments you will never ever forget - moments of great triumph and personal reflection, often all in one.

Let’s create a few more in Nottingham this weekend.

>> A version of this article appeared in Fife Flyers’ match programme

>> The Fife Free Press will be at the play-off finals weekend, with live coverage on social media and online.

Follow @fifefreepressed and @mattelder_FFP for Twitter updates and visit www.fifetoday.co.uk for reports and reaction across the weekend