Fife Flyers’ 1992 promotion showdown that was win or bust

Fife Flyers - Richard Laplante cores against Ayr Raiders in the winner-takes all promotion play-off at the Summit Centre, Glasgow (Pic: Bill Dickman)
Fife Flyers - Richard Laplante cores against Ayr Raiders in the winner-takes all promotion play-off at the Summit Centre, Glasgow (Pic: Bill Dickman)

Fife Flyers have experienced many dramatic games, but nothing tops the night they won promotion back to the Premier League in 1992.

Everything was on the line for them and Ayr Raiders in a winner takes all game.

Fife Flyers, Brian Kanewischer, head coach 1991-92

Fife Flyers, Brian Kanewischer, head coach 1991-92

Flyers had one year to get out of Division One, and it was up to the players, and coach Brian Kanewischer, to deliver

Ayr were on their knees. A nomadic club staring at relegation, and even extinction, if they lost.

The teams were drawn along with Telford Tigers – the only Divison One team to win a hockey match in Kirkcaldy – and outsiders, Romford Raiders, and only one could go up.

Flyers went in as league champions, pipping Slough Jets to the title on goal difference, and with a potent goalscoring partnership of Frank Morris and Richard Laplante.

Morris had just logged a 210-point season, while Laplante, who didn’t miss a single game, had 178 points.

They’d clinched the title in the down at heel surrounds of Lee Valley on a Sunday night, with defenceman Kel Land doing one of his famous moonwalks after netting a fine slapshot in an 11-5 win. Not bad considering they were 3-0 down inside seven minutes.

The play-offs started in controversy as Ayr were allowed to ice Tommy Plommer, their Junior B category import, as a reclassified Brit.

Fife protested to the BIHA over the eleventh hour change of status which let him compete against the Division One teams. Plommer, a feisty, talented player, netted twice but Flyers won a physically tough game 8-5.

The wheels came off on the road as Telford racked up a 13-10 victory over Fife in Shropshire.

Chuck Taylor’s tough team – which starred Jason Hannigan who hit the ice wearing a cape to the tune of The Troggs’ Wild Thing – took the opening period 6-1, and 12 of their 13 goals came against Fife’s import line.

Stats of 5+1 for Morris and 2+5 for Laplante couldn’t rescue the situation as Kanewischer ripped up his lines.

Fife returned home with a 12-6 win over Romford in which young netminder Colin Downie saved a penalty shot, and then gained revenge with a vital 7-6 victory over Tigers in the return game.

The tone was set from the face off as Cal Brown steamrollered his way through Telford’s centreman at the opening face-off – he’d had a ‘mare down south – but it still went to the wire before Bobby Haig’s dramatic last-gasp winner set the building alight.

Going into the final weekend, Flyers were two points ahead, and a 5-3 win over Romford took them to the Summit Centre, Glasgow, which was Ayr’s temporary home.

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The rink was packed.

Dozens of fans were locked out as every vantage points was seized – I spent most of the night standing on the very edge of the team bench – for this momentous game.

Raiders needed to win by three clear goals to clinch the sole promotion spot, and Fife were coasting until the pressure was cranked up in the most dramatic period of hockey this club has ever witnessed.

Jim Lynch, Raiders former coach and an ex-Fife import, had promised “a barnstorming finish.”

No-one expected what was to follow.

With the clock winding down, Gordon Latto delivered a rink-length rush and a stunning finish to beat netminder Bernie McCrone one on one.

With seven minutes left to play, Flyers were 6-4 up.

Then came the blitz.

Four shots, four goals and Ayr were 8-6 ahead.

The entire future of their hockey club rested on one more shot finding its way past Downie in the Fife net.

Flyers’ immediate future rested on willing the clock to 0:00 without further damage to get them out of Division One at the first attempt.

Ayr’s quarter of goals came inside three harrowing minutes as, first Terry MacLean, and then Mark Dennehy rang the red light.

With a shoot-on-sight policy – they fired the puck from literally anywhere in the ice pad – Russ Parent, a future Fife defenceman, drilled home the third to set up the most tense finale imaginable.

Flyers players were throwing themselves in front of pucks to protect their goalie as Ayr gave it everything.

Down 8-6, Kanewischer called a time out and Fife went into the final face off of the night, knowing all they had to do was win it and fire the puck down the pad as far from their goal as possible – and hope Ayr simply ran out of time to mount one final charge.

The atmosphere was like nothing I had ever witnessed – two sets of fans willing their teams to find that one shot, one move, that would have sealed the deal. It was unbearable to watch.

Any oxygen in the rink was sucked out as everyone honed in on Fife’s goal and the clock seemed to take an eternity to tick down second by second.

The sound of the buzzer saw Kanewischer vault over the barrier and explode with relief as his team could finally breathe and begin the celebrations.

That night they returned to the Abbey Hotel in Kirkcaldy where, once again, so many folk turned up some were left outside.

Amid the noise, the songs and the champagne he sat with a scarf wrapped round his head and admitted, that was one heck of a way to win.

“Gordon’s goal should have killed it,” he said, “I was pleased we won, particularly for Colin Downie. He will never face pressure like that again.”

Defeat meant the end of the road for Raiders – a huge loss to Scottish hockey as time was called on the Kings of Limekilns Road.

Victory meant promotion for Flyers, but with one twist to come. Two weeks later, Kanewischer was replaced by Jim Lynch... the man who delivered that breathless, incredible barnstorming finish which changed the course of history for two hockey clubs.