WHEN Fife Flyers were confirmed as an Elite League club this summer Andy Samuel was delighted, not for himself, but for his younger team mates.
When it comes to top level hockey, Samuel already has the t-shirt from a decade-long career in the old British National League, where he won both league and play-off titles with Fife and Dundee.
But the veteran forward was desperate for the current generation to be given the same opportunity, and is thrilled that they are now experiencing the big-time in the EIHL.
“These guys have been used to winning all the time at a lower level, but that wasn’t benefiting the club – or improving them as players,” Samuel told SportsPress.
“I’ve been there, done it and had the good hockey, whereas the young guys hadn’t, and I thought they were never going to get it.
“So when I heard we were going Elite I was so pleased for them that they would get the same chance I had to go out and play really good hockey with imports.
“That was what it was like in the good old days when I first started playing for Flyers and it’s so good to be a part of.”
At 36, Samuel is the oldest Brit in the team, but he believes he still has plenty to offer at the highest level.
“I’m finding it tough – but I’m glad I’ve done it,” he said. “I watched a couple of Elite games last season and knew it was a different level altogether but I’m loving it.
“It’s great for Kirkcaldy to have the top teams in Britain back in the rink again.
“If I didn’t feel I could do it I wouldn’t have signed up for it this year, but I’ve still got the legs. I don’t feel as though I’m lagging behind.”
Samuel is using his experience to help the younger Brits acclimatise to the Elite League and he feels that after a slow start they are beginning to show signs of improvement.
“It’s a huge adjustment,” he said. “At times, you can see them sitting in the dressing room thinking ‘what’s going on here?’
“But I was the same when I first started. Going to big rinks, with big crowds and big teams - you feel intimidated.
“When I joined the Flyers there was only myself and one other that came in, and we didn’t get much ice time the first season – you built it up gradually.
“We’ve got six or seven guys who’ve been thrown right into the deep end at a level they’ve never played at before. That’s the harder adjustment, but they’re adjusting well, and beginning to find their feet. They’re realising it’s not the same as they’ve been used to, and that you’re not going to score three or four goals a night.
“They’ve got to work hard and their rewards will come. The second you stop skating at this level you’re caught flat-footed and that’s when teams punish you, but things are picking up and we’re only going to get better.”
Samuel was disappointed to lose to Edinburgh in overtime on Saturday but took encouragement from the improved performance from the 8-3 drubbing at Murrayfield the previous Sunday.
“After last week we were so determined to get revenge, and towards the end we had a lot of pressure but it just never fell for us,” he said.
“Although we got the one point, it’s still really disappointing to lose when we should have beat them.
“The fact that we out-shot them is the most promising thing to take out of it. That’s a big turning points for us.”