Fife Flyers: A team that doesn’t deal in defeat

Fife Flyers celebrate their stunning overtime win against Manchester Storm that took them into the British championship play-off finals weeend for the third time (Pic: Mark Ferriss)
Fife Flyers celebrate their stunning overtime win against Manchester Storm that took them into the British championship play-off finals weeend for the third time (Pic: Mark Ferriss)

The scenes inside the cramped dressing-room in Altrincham on Sunday night were a glimpse into the team spirit and unity that sits at the very heart of Fife Flyers.

Players, coaching staff and backroom team all pumped with emotion and raising the roof with their shrieks of celebration in the immediate aftermath of a stunning overtime victory which took them to the play-off finals, and eliminated Manchester Storm in the most heartbreaking manner.

Fife Flyers v Manchester Storm - Chase Schaber celebrates a key goal (Pic: Steve Gunn)

Fife Flyers v Manchester Storm - Chase Schaber celebrates a key goal (Pic: Steve Gunn)

Directly above them, a huge travelling support shook with excitement, disbelief, joy, and sheer pride.

Sport is made for moments like this.

Even for a team which has specialised in remarkable comebacks, this was something incredibly special; a play-off triumph that will go down in the club’s history.

Todd Dutiaume was as measured as ever in his post-game analysis, but you could see the emotion in his eyes – and inside the dressing-room he was at the heart of the noise and the jubilation, roaring his joy as the magnitude of their victory started to seep through the buzz of the adrenalin.

Fife Flyers v Manchester Storm - Chase Schaber celebrates a key goal (Pic: Steve Gunn)

Fife Flyers v Manchester Storm - Chase Schaber celebrates a key goal (Pic: Steve Gunn)

Down 4-1 after Saturday’s first leg on home ice, he and Jeff Hutchins set his team a simple task.

Win all three periods by one goal.

They didn’t.

They won four – Carlo Finucci’s precise backhand winner sealing the deal in overtime.

Dutiaume has said all season that this was a special group. The glimpses of potential witnessed, sometimes all too fleetingly, in previous seasons finally crystallised. Sunday’s victory, on the back of a 4-1 first leg home loss, said it all.

This is a team that simply doesn’t give up. Every time you think it has no option but to fold, it comes up with another ace. That has made 2017-18 incredibly special for the players and the fans.

Across autumn and winter, Flyers took points off every single team, and won as often outwith their conference as within it, thanks to a stunning work ethic and a mentality that didn’t recognise the concept of defeat.

Huge comebacks in Nottingham and Cardiff, to name but two, left opponents bewildered in defeat, and kept the club riding high in the standings.

Seventh place was, in many respects, scant reward for a side that lodged comfortably – and looked entirely at home – in the top three for a long spell of the league campaign. The ‘wee team’ from the old rink outplaying, out-witting and out-performing the biggest arena clubs.

The return to reality after the Gardiner Conference win took a short time, but it too was another night of unbelievable emotion as Fife led, lost and then tied the game to win the section, all within a crazy 17 final seconds.

Keeping that same team grounded, and adopting a simple game by game approach, allowed the coaching staff to plot a steady course, and hold firm even when injuries and a relentless schedule impacted heavily in March.

On Sunday they travelled to Altrincham with a three-goal deficit to make-up simply to get back on an even keel.

This tie was there for Manchester to wrap up – in all honesty, even some Fife fans thought this was simply one step too far.

The team labelled ‘’pesky Flyers’’ by Chase Schaber – a tag that has become a statement of intent – had other ideas.

‘’You think people might have learned by now’’ said Dutiaume with a smile.

That belief in his players to be mentally strong enough, let alone ignore the physical exertions of a long, hard season,to dig deep and deliver lay at the heart of the win.

‘’Your starting mentality when you are 3-0 down makes you or breaks you,’’ he said. ‘’Our game plan was to win each period by one goal. We won all four by one goal.’’

The split second Finucci’s shot hit the net, players swarmed on to the ice pad, and the coaching staff celebrated on the bench.

Mission accomplished, the Fife way – off the ropes and to the wire. Just how they like it.

‘’Are you serious, Fife Flyers?’’ Tweeted former player Sebastien Thinel, catching the mood of fans and pros alike – disbelief and joy in equal measure.

They still face a testing semi-final against league champions, Cardiff Devils, but the belief within the dressing-room, and the determination to go from the last four and into the final, and then shoot for the silverware, is strong.

If they deliver in Nottingham then the Class of 2018 will take their place among the legends who have laced up in Kirkcaldy – a lineage that can be traced back to Al Rodgers’ Grand Slam side of 1948, and one that ties the champs of ‘77 with the Plumb Line of ‘85 and Mark Morrison’s Grand slammers of 1999-2000.

To head into their own landmark 80th anniversary season as British champions would be something special.

Sometimes in sport, you just get a sense that the script is pre-written...