Flyers and Devils: The ties that bind Celtic brothers

Fife Flyers -  Doug Smail against Cardiff Devils' Doug McEwen in front of a full house in Kirkcaldy, 1993-94
Fife Flyers - Doug Smail against Cardiff Devils' Doug McEwen in front of a full house in Kirkcaldy, 1993-94

There was always something special about a match up between Fife Flyers and Cardiff Devils.

Newcomers to the sport in the 1980s, the Welsh side had ambition, financial clout, and teams which bristled with talent and quality – and they always came with a huge travelling support.

Steve Moria, former Fife Flyers import playing for Cardiff Devils against his old club.  (Pic: Bill Dickman)

Steve Moria, former Fife Flyers import playing for Cardiff Devils against his old club. (Pic: Bill Dickman)

John Lawless was the man who laid the foundations, and drove them to huge success.

The days of competing in Division Two (Midlands) in 1986 seem a long way from back to back EIHL championships, but that’s where they started, and by the end of that decade they had motored through the regional leagues and into the old Premier League, shaking up the Heineken era in the process.

Shannon Hope, the most influential of defencemen, was their rock on the ice, Brian Kanewischer was behind the bench, and Devils effectively made their mark with a trio of huge signings luring the the Cooper brothers, Ian and Stephen, from champions, Durham – and back then no-one nicked players from the all-powerful Big Blue Machine – and the classy Steve Moria from Flyers.

It is a measure of the impact the original ‘Mo’ had on hockey in Kirkcaldy that, 30 years later, he is still fondly remembered by many fans for more than just his output too.

Fife Flyers - defenceman Paul Hand in action versus Cardiff Devils, circa 1990 British championship finals weekend at Wembley Arena  (Pic: Bill Dickman)

Fife Flyers - defenceman Paul Hand in action versus Cardiff Devils, circa 1990 British championship finals weekend at Wembley Arena (Pic: Bill Dickman)

He wrote his own programme column and, some recall him raving about a little known band called REM; possibly their first name check in the Kingdom.

Moria played two seasons from 1986-88 – the second year delivered a bumper 151 points from 31 league games – before his first stint with Cardiff which spanned four years.

He returned to the valleys from 1995-2001, and the evergreen forward was still lacing ‘em up in 2012. Not bad considering his junior hockey career began in 1979...

Devils’ policy of signing the very best to build the strongest possible team to challenge the older order, which had been dominated by Durham and Murrayfield Racers, led to the birth of what many called ‘’cheque book hockey.’’

Derek King, playing for Fife Flyers against Cardiff Devils - a team he signed for circa 1990 (Pic: Bill; Dickman)

Derek King, playing for Fife Flyers against Cardiff Devils - a team he signed for circa 1990 (Pic: Bill; Dickman)

If that tag got under their skin, it didn’t show. They continued to surge forward, bringing in Doug McEwen from Peterborough, hard-nosed Scotsman, Paul Heavey, and defenceman Derek King from Fife as their horizons expanded to Wembley and on to Europe.

The links between Fife and Cardiff stretched into the 90s – Fife lured Kanewischer north to guide them back into the Premier League after their own disastrous relegation at the tail end of the 1980s.

In the mid-1990s Devils wooed NHL legend Doug Smail from the Lang Toun to the valleys.

They have also endured their own difficult times – the Bob Phillips years, campaigns to save the rink,dwindling crowds and slashed budgets reducing them to a much poorer team in so many ways.

But 2018 sees them in rude health and in a fantastic new arena at Cardiff Bay.

On and off the ice, Devils set the bar for the rest to follow.

They are looking for a league and championship double to round off another outstanding season – and Fife, a team they have been crossing swords with since the 1980s, stand in their way.

They have met before in play-off semi-finals – it was Devils who spiked Doug Smail’s ambitions of a British championship crown to add to his NHL glories back in 1994, and they also crossed paths at Wembley circa 1990 when Kanewischer’s side eliminated the Fife team coached by Rab Petrie.

Since then the clubs have followed different paths – ISL and NPL – before once again going head to head in the Elite League.

The teams match up well, and have delivered many cracking games over the seasons.

Devils have strength in depth, and the bench is packed with great leaders.

Andrew Lord has also made a fantastic transition to the often difficult role of player-coach, and he will be keen to round off the season with more silverware.

He leads the head to heads with Todd Dutiaume three to one, but all the games have been tight affairs; one goal hockey games for long spells which could have gone either way.

But, the highlight of the four meetings has to be Fife’s 8-6 comeback victory which showcased the team’s remarkable battling qualities.

They were down 5-1, and teams simply don’t come back from that position when they go to Wales let alone finish with four unanswered goals – two short-handed, one powerplay and one empty netter. Nestled in there was a straight hat-trick from Dannick Gauthier.

The Comeback Kings were born that night.

Dutiaume will draw on that as he prepares to lock horns once more with Lord.

‘’That you can use, regardless of what happens,’’ he said. ‘’You are always in a hockey game.’’