Are Fife Flyers genuine Elite League title contenders?
It’s a question we will be closer to answering after this weekend as the team travel to Wales for a top of the table clash with Cardiff Devils.
Sunday’s long road trip to the home of the league leaders follows an equally important Gardiner Conference match against Dundee Stars at Fife Ice Arena on Saturday.
But all eyes will be on Cardiff Arena for the clash between the two teams with the best records in the EIHL, with the dark horses from Kirkcaldy going head-to-head against the defending champions and title favourites.
Head coach Todd Dutiaume admits sustaining a title push against the big arena clubs will be tough, but after watching his team win almost 75 per cent of games to date, he believes it is possible.
“It certainly has to be at the back of our players minds that they are in a position where they can certainly challenge for the league title if they keep posting results week-to-week,” he said. “But there’s an awful lot of hockey to be played and we want our players to stay level-headed. Our current win percentage is excellent and there’s not a tonne of games where we’ve lost by more than one goal, or an empty netter. That’s frustrating, but also very positive.
“We’re a .750 hockey club and deservedly so, but it’s incredibly diffcult to keep up.
“It’s possible, and these guys are more than capable of it, but it takes bit of luck, health and some serious resilience from the team to see it through. We have a very busy schedule coming up and it can be easy to let things slip away, but we have to show up every night if want to be up there at the end of the season.”
Flyers have already claimed a notable victory in Cardiff this campaign, coming from 5-1 down to win 8-6 in one of the games of the season to date.
Devils, however, have claimed two narrow wins in Kirkcaldy, and Dutiaume knows his team will need to reach peak level to claim a positive result.
“You can’t go 5-1 down to Cardiff Devils and expect to come back on any given night,” he said. “Lightning doesn’t tend to strike in the same spot twice, so we need to be ready right from the start.
“Guildford, who I feel are a very comparable team to ourselves just went in that building and lost 8-3, which shows how tough it is, and they didn’t have to travel really far.”
Dutiaume stressed, however, that Flyers will not be looking beyond Saturday’s visit of Dundee, which carries equal importance in terms of his side’s conference aspirations, where expectation levels are greater. And last Sunday’s 5-2 defeat in Coventry – only Fife’s second league loss in 15 outings – was a reminder that no team can be taken lightly.
“Dundee have made a few changes and the way they’ve been playing lately, they are a good hockey club and we have to be prepared,” Dutiaume said.“They have this ‘play-off push’ thing at the moment, and when you latch onto things like that, it can motiviate your players.
“They definitely get up for these games, but for us we just need to treat it as another home game and one we have to go out and win. That’s going to be the message this week.”
There will no immediate return for Shayne Stockton after Dutiaume admitted he is uncertain how long the centreman’s injury will keep him out for, while netminder Andy Iles is hoping to recover in time after becoming the latest victim of the flu virus that has ripped through the dressing room in recent weeks.