Fife Flyers begin the defence of their Gardiner Conference title this weekend when they face Dundee Stars in a double-header.
In a reverse from the usual tradition, Dundee will have home advantage on Saturday with the teams squaring off again in Kirkcaldy on Sunday.
A change to the EIHL set-up this season means that clubs no longer play more conference fixtures than regular league, which had been the case in previous campaigns.
With a third of the season already gone, Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume believes that makes his team’s current second position in the overall standings all the more impressive.
“We had a very strong season last year and relied on our conference for a bulk of our points, although we were just as strong out of conference,” he said.
“A lot of people were saying ‘wait until we get rid of the conferences, that will show us the true measure of where teams are in the table’.
“Well, I think when you see Flyers in second place, and we haven’t had a conference game yet, it certainly shows that we are capable of competing in this league, and it’s something we take enormous pride in.
“But we have to keep fighting. It’s all week, 24-7 you have to be focused on this. If you go into it halfheartedly you’re not going to be able to produce these results.”
Flyers claimed their first conference trophy last season at the sixth attempt, and Dutiaume is keen to stamp the club’s authority on the Scottish division by retaining the title.
“It’s something we’d obviously love to do,” he said.
“It was wonderful to win that conference trophy last year, and nobody was happier than myself to bring an EIHL-era trophy to Fife.
“But it’s important for this club to continue to move on, so we focus on every single game in this league, rather than specific games. That’s how you remain competitive.
“Dismissing out of conference games as not as important is folly, and sometimes you miss out on games you might have won.
“But this is an important competition, and there’s an incredible rivalry between ourselves, Dundee and Glasgow.
“I know all sets of fan bases get up for these games. They are always emotionally charged with something extra to it, which is the same for the players as well.”
Dundee are bottom of the table, 16 points behind Fife, but Dutiaume warned that will count for nothing this weekend.
“Gone are the days where people are shocked by a team at the top getting knocked off by a team at the bottom,” he said. “That shouldn’t surprise anybody any more.
“All teams are good and competitive. It just comes down to consistency.”
Dutiaume is hoping for a better weekend performance after seeing two different sides to his team last Saturday and Sunday, when a 6-2 home defeat to Sheffield Steelers was followed by a much-improved display in a 3-2 penalty shots defeat at Nottingham Panthers.
“It was two completely different hockey teams from our side,” he said.
“The difference, 100 per cent, was the compete level, whether that was complacency, or being mentally unprepared.
“We have been, at times, a little inconsistent this year but we’re certainly not complacent with our league position - we want to fight to keep up there. But it’s a lesson we need to learn as a group very quickly because things are tightening up at the top.”
Dutiaume meanwhile confirmed that Marcus Basara’s trial period has completed with the forward securing a full-time contract with the Kirkcaldy club.
“He’ll be with us now,” Dutiaume explained.
“We like his compete level, and I think it’s important that he knows his position with us.
“We’ve been very satisfied with him since he’s come in, and after discussions with him he seems happy here.
“We’ll just keep pushing him on and hopefully we can keep up our full quota.”
Chase Schaber, however, remains sidelined for the foreseeable future.
“He just has to wait for swelling to go down,” Dutiaume revealed.
“It’s inflamed so much they are looking for another scan on it, which will happen in the upcoming weeks, to see what progress if any has been made.
“It’s a frustrating time for him because he’s put a lot into this club, and he’s hungry to be part of it.
“He just has to stick with it and mentally stay checked in until we get him all fixed up and ready to go again.”