The Elite League Ice Hockey season reaches an exciting climax this weekend with multiple permutations for teams in terms of league, play-off and conference aspirations.
While Fife Flyers are already safely through to the post-season play-offs as one of the EIHL’s top eight, they could still face any one of a number of sides in the quarter-finals depending on where the chips fall this weekend.
Flyers will finish sixth in the EIHL regardless of the results from their three remaining games - a double header away to Belfast Giants on Friday and Saturday, followed by the final league game at home to Sheffield Steelers on Sunday - but other clubs are still vying for position.
The Gardiner Conference title will also be decided this weekend with Braehead Clan now firm favourites to pip Flyers at the post as they just need to win their remaining two games - home and away to an Edinburgh Capitals side on a 20-game losing streak - to finish level on 43 points with Fife, but leapfrog them by virtue of their superior number of regulation time wins.
There is also the small matter of the EIHL championship to be decided this weekend, with Sunday’s visitors to Fife Ice Arena, Sheffield, potentially needing a win in Kirkcaldy to reclaim their crown.
Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume is anticipating a rollercoaster weekend.
“Almost every permutation is still possible,” he said.
“We finish with a tough schedule but the good thing for us is that we’re already qualified for play-offs and it will have zero impact on our final standings.
“Every year we’ve been battling right down to the wire for the last spot, or near enough, and we haven’t had any preparation time for play-offs.
“But now we’ve got a great opportunity to go out and play great hockey and tune things up to get ourselves ready for the play-offs the following weekend.”
Dutiaume believes that Flyers likely play-off opponents will come from either Sheffield, Braehead or Cardiff Devils - and he has a preference.
“Given our past match ups against them this year, and the travel factor, it would be good to get Braehead,” Dutiaume said.
“But we’ve performed well against Sheffield and Cardiff in the second half of the season and we’d fancy our chances against anyone.”
Dutiaume is less confident about Flyers conference title hopes now that they are left relying on favours from an Edinburgh side that has been in freefall since Christmas.
“Any time you leave yourself relying on favours you will ultimately be let down,” he said.
“We accomplished everything we possibly could by winning our last six conference games, including those big games against Braehead, meaning all they could do was match us on points and beat us on regulation wins.
“If that happens I won’t say I won’t be disappointed - it was a very attainable goal for us and something we were shooting for.
“It would be tough to swallow but it doesn’t diminish how well the guys have played since mid-November. They came together and had a great second half of the season and it would be a shame for them to come out of it with nothing, league-wise.
“The consolation would be that we’re going into play-offs playing some of our best hockey.”
Looking ahead to Sunday, Dutiaume added: “It’s not anything personal against Sheffield, but we don’t want another team to win a championship on our home ice, but, who knows, it could be a league and conference title celebration on the same night. We have to think positively.”