THE Elite League ice hockey season came to a close with the play-off finals on Sunday, and attention is already turning to next season.
Fife Flyers may have missed out on the end of season showpiece, which was won by Nottingham Panthers, after finishing bottom of the league table in their debut season.
But the Kirkcaldy club has confirmed it will return for a second year at Elite level, and director Jack Wishart expects the team to be a more competitive force in 2012-13.
“It was certainly a more exciting league than what we’d been playing in,” he told SportsPress.
“It was a huge learning curve, and we know we made mistakes which, hopefully, we won’t repeat.
“We were caught short with the number of imports we started the season with, simply because we didn’t know what we were going into.
“We now know what we’ve got to improve on.”
Flyers directors had been wary of the financial implications of joining the EIHL having watched a number of its member clubs struggle with the cost of running a 10-import set-up.
However, Mr Wishart revealed that while Flyers struggled to compete on the ice, they managed to stick within the budget they had set themselves.
“We knew some teams in this league were losing money and shutting down, and we didn’t want that to happen to us,” he said.
“We didn’t make any fortunes, but the club was kept on a sound financial footing.”
Part of the reason for the club’s stability off the ice may be put down to the savings made by starting the season with fewer imports.
However, the club’s loyal fan base, with crowds averaging over 1000 most of the season, will certainly have helped Flyers balance the books.
“The attendances have been very good,” Mr Wishart said. “In normal circumstances, a team at the bottom of the table would see attendances fall off, but our fans kept with us and we appreciate what the fans did.”
Flyers first task of the summer, Mr Wishart added, will be to appoint a head coach for its second assault on the Elite League.
The position has been held by Todd Dutiaume for the past seven years, but ice hockey has taken a back seat in his life following the tragic death of his wife in February.
However, the club plans to hold talks with Dutiaume when the time is appropriate.
“No decisions have been made about the head coach position at the moment,” Mr Wishart explained.
“We’re just leaving Todd alone at the moment, and giving him the time he needs to contact us.
“It’s still very early with regards to next season, but we’ll be starting the ball rolling soon.
“We certainly won’t be leaving things as late as we have in the past. It’s going to be a busy summer.”
FIFE Flyers may not have been involved in the play-offs, but they still picked up an award at finals day.
Netminder Garrett Zemlak scooped the Elite League’s fans favourite award, voted for by fans of all 10 clubs.
The Mirror of Merit winning goalie travelled to the play-off final venue - the National Ice Centre in Nottingham – to collect his trophy on Sunday, before flying back to Canada this week.
Flyers director Jack Wishart said: “We’re pleased that Garrett won the award - it shows you what kind of netminder he is.
“Like any goalie, he had his good nights and bad nights, but when he was on fire, he was excellent.”