Fife Flyers are aiming to continue their impressive start to the Elite League season this weekend in a double-header with old adversaries Guildford Flames.
Starting on home ice on Saturday, Flyers take on their old BNL rivals on the back of a performance head coach Todd Dutiaume described as the “best of the season”.
The 4-1 win over Sheffield Steelers on Sunday moved the Kirkcaldy club up to third in the EIHL standings with nine points from a possible 10 thus far.
Fife can also currently boast the EIHL’s top goal scorer in Evan Bloodoff on seven, the top assist scorer in Paul Crowder on 11, as well as the top goaltender in Shane Owen with .949 save percentage.
Flyers have not fared as well in the Challenge Cup, with Friday’s defeat to Glasgow Clan leaving them relying on results elsewhere to reach the knock-out stages.
But Dutiaume is hoping the team can continue to show the league form that has made them one of the early pacesetters in the race for the EIHL title.
“I’ve been on both sides of the table, and it’s definitely better for your confidence when you’re sitting near the top of the standings rather than looking all the way up,” he said. “Sometimes we’ve been at the bottom early on strictly because we hadn’t played as many league games, and you lose one or two early, then the gap seems extremely wide.
“This year we’ve got off to a decent start, and there’s a motivation that comes from that, with guys taking pride in their league play.
“Until we see the fall-out from the Challenge Cup, it’s all league games moving forward so we just want to keep the level of consistency we’ve found.
“From top to bottom there’s 11 teams that are more than capable of winning on any night, which makes for a good league.
“We’ve got off to an initial good start, but it’s another tough month ahead for us and guys just have to get their heads down and get to work.”
Dutiaume is looking for his players to maintain the standards set in the Sheffield game.
“It was arguably our best performance of the season,” he said. “A lot of our guys stepped up their game and played for the entire match.
“They were much happier with their performance, you could tell in their body language.
“It’s a nice feeling to come off the ice knowing that you’ve won a game, and it wasn’t luck.
“They earned those two points and our work now is going to be to instil that belief in them and make sure that effort level is brought all the time.”
Flyers man of the match in the win over Sheffield was Danick Gauthier, and Dutiaume is looking for more of the same from the French-Canadian.
“That was by far his best performance of the season,” the coach added. “He got a lot more ice time in that game so I don’t know if he felt more involved. It seemed like a switch was flicked, and that’s going to be the benchmark we’ll judge him from, because we know he’s capable of it.”
Dutiaume is hopeful that former NHLer Brett Bulmer will be fit to face Guildford after missing the win over Sheffield due to an injury picked up in Glasgow on Friday.
However, Jordan Buesa is likely to remain sidelined for four to six weeks after also suffering a more serious injury in the same match.
“It’s a minor set back for the kid, but he’s a fighter,” Dutiaume said. “There’s a lot of potential there with Jordan.
“Jeff (Hutchins) has been working hard with him on the systematic side of things.
“There’s no questioning his work ethic, and he’s a good skater.
“We’re just trying to develop his all-round game, and he’s responded well to it.
“He’s keen to learn and secure a full-time spot in this line-up. The heartening thing for us is that we’ve rarely been with a full line-up this year, but we’re still managing to win hockey games.
“We were without Joe Basaraba for three weeks, Bulmer missed two games with suspension, and missed another through injury, and now Buesa is out mid to long range.
“But guys are stepping up to the mark, and that’s a good sign.”