The fragile underbelly of Fife Flyers

Kyle Horne battles with Ashley Tait. Pic by Steve Gunn

Kyle Horne battles with Ashley Tait. Pic by Steve Gunn

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Allan Crow on the frustration on and off the ice

‘‘Hockey’s a funny game. You have to prove yourself every shift, every game. It’s not up to anybody else. You have to take pride in yourself.’’

The words spoken by NHL legend Paul Coffey have been pinned up in dressing-rooms around the world many times over.

In Fife they could engrave them on a mirror and hand one to every single player.

Fife Flyers are a team in a fog of frustration.

Bottom of the table can be a lonely place when, three months into the season, you haven’t found your rhythm, and the effort involved in recovering from goals given up cheaply is simply too huge.

It’s a place where confidence evaporates. It’s a place where road trips become long dark journeys into the early morning.

Every player and coach has been there at least once in their careers.

Saturday night post-game and the silence in the dressing-room was as dark as any winter cloud.

Flyers started in fine fettle against a good looking Coventry Blaze, but the minute they fell behind it was as if someone had tilted the ice pad to a severe angle and told them to skate up it.

For 47 minutes this was a 3-2 hockey game, but it was a 3-2 hockey game Fife just didn’t look like turning round, let alone levelling.

The gusto they showed at the start simply drained as Blaze grabbed an early goal.

The will to go and dig in the corners, to take a big hit, to drive the net and fight for the puck evaporated and too many players again drifted to the edges of the game content to let someone else take responsibility. That’s a worryingsign off mental frailty.

There is no doubt Flyers have a core of good players, but they have too many who are the same.

They need a leader on the ice, a presence in the room; an ice hockey version of a Norrie McCathie, the late Pars captain who led by example and who, before he took his team out at three o’clock on a Saturday would turn and say ‘‘if you don’t want to play for the jersey, stay in here’’. It was a statement - not an invitation.

Todd Dutiaume spoke of ‘‘a must-win game’’ which slipped away from them after a very positive start - ‘‘you could see what losing a goal does to us mentally’’ highlighting a soft underbelly which is now hurting the team.

Danny Stewart spoke of being in a rut, and the importance of the next two months when their play-off hopes will either flicker or be extinguished.

‘We have to play night after night,’’ he said. ‘‘We have dug ourselves into a bit of a hole, but we must stay positive and professional.’’

For the fans, the choice is simple - ring the changes.

Key signing Andy Contois has struggled to make an impact in Fife - his goal haul for the season was eclipsed by Kyle Haines making his debut - but that minimal production is evident along the bench, and without goals, they simply won’t win hockey games.

Bobby Chaumont is a goalscorer desperately in need of a hot streak and the right line-mates - a combination that would fire up the team almost instantly - while Matt Reber and Rok Pajic have to deliver more. In short, someone has got to fire the puck. They’ll all know the old NHL quote ‘‘you miss 100 per cent of the shots you never take.’’

Individually Fife have good players, smart players - guys who can skate for fun and who, when the going is good, can light up the arena - but the collective will to dig and grind out results in a pretty hard-nosed EIHL seems to be limited if not lacking.

And for a club currently carrying an extra import that seems to be a strange state of affairs.

The games are falling off the calendar and there is now only a limited window of opportunity to find the lines that work or to make changes.

It’d be a source of disappoinment to all if the club’s landmark 75th season simply fizzled out.

The bar has to be raised.