Fireworks expected as east-west hockey rivals lock horns in play-offs

A typically fiesty encounter between Fife Flyers and Braehead Clan is expected this weekend. Pic: Steve Gunn
A typically fiesty encounter between Fife Flyers and Braehead Clan is expected this weekend. Pic: Steve Gunn

Two capacity crowds are expected this weekend as ice hockey foes Fife Flyers and Braehead Clan lock horns in the biggest double header of the season.

The east-west rivals go head-to-head in an Elite League play-off quarter-final showdown, with the first leg in Kirkcaldy on Saturday followed by the second leg at Braehead Arena on Sunday.

Up for grabs is a place in the EIHL play-off finals weekend held in Nottingham on April 2 and 3 - the showpiece event of the UK ice hockey season attended by around 14,000 specators over two days.

The tie will be decided on aggregate score and Flyers will hope to gain revenge on Clan, who pipped them to the Gardiner Conference title on a regulation wins after both teams finished level on 43 points.

Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume said he expected “fireworks” this weekend, adding: “We’ll come out after these guys right off the bat and see where we go.

“However, it’s 120 minutes of hockey that we’ve got to play and it has to be viewed like that. You can have a great first game or a stinker, but it doesn’t matter until the final whistle in Braehead on Sunday.

“You have to be mentally strong, and recognise that a lot can happen over six periods.”

Last weekend, Flyers finished the regular season with three defeats in three days, although with play-off qualification and seeding already secured, the team used the games to “tune up”.

Back-to-back losses in Belfast, 5-3 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday, were followed by a 3-1 home defeat to Sheffield Steelers on Sunday – a result that saw the visitors celebrate clinching the EIHL title.

“It’s important to recognise that all three games were played at a play-off pace so it was a good learning experience for us,” Dutiaume said.

“The three games were probably the best tune up we could have asked for.

“I’m not happy about the losses - we want to be competitive and win every game.

“But we knew we weren’t going to get out of sixth place unless Edinburgh did us a favour. The games didn’t have that extra matter factor.

“At times we played some great hockey over the weekend, but come play-offs we’re going to have to be a lot sharper. We’ve been right there in games, but right there isn’t good enough in play-offs.

“You need to be right on top of your game.”

Flyers have secured extra training slots at the rink this week but Dutiaume insists that the preparations for the weekend have already been done over the course of the season.

“If you’re looking to change anything the week before play-offs then you’re not in a good place,” he said. “It’s more fine-tuning and re-affirming what these guys already know.

“We’ve got good ice at good slots this week so there’s plenty time to walk things through and make sure the guys are all on the same page.

“We’re going to be playing at the highest level we’ve played all year, and the guys will be ready for it.”

Dutiaume is hopeful that play-off success can make up for missing out on the Gardiner Conference title.

“If we sharpen up a touch, and go on a hot run, who knows what can happen?” he added.

Face-off at Fife Ice Arena on Saturday is 7.15 pm with Sunday’s game in Braehead due to start at 6.00 p.m. Both games were heading towards a sell-out, with a ticket fiasco over Flyers allocation threatening to overshadow the away leg in Braehead (see page 75).