The Elite League ice hockey season reaches an exciting crescendo this weekend with Fife Flyers set to have a big say at both the top and bottom of the table.
Flyers secured their play-off place last night (Wednesday) without icing a puck as Edinburgh Capitals failed to win in Cardiff meaning they can no longer overtake the Kirkcaldy club in the standings.
However, there is still the small matter of league position to jostle for as Flyers could still finish anywhere between sixth and eighth, and could yet face one of FOUR clubs in next weekend’s play-off quarter-finals.
Belfast Giants visit Fife Ice Arena on Saturday, but all eyes are on Sunday’s hotly anticipated near sell-out clash at home to Braehead Clan, which could see the destination of the EIHL title decided in Kirkcaldy.
Braehead are one of three clubs still vying for the championship, and depending on results over the weekend, they could need the points to lift the title on what promises to be a dramatic night at the old rink.
Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume is not overly concerned by the permutations, he just wants two good results to go into the play-offs on a high.
“It’s certainly in our own hands,” Dutiaume told the Press.
“We’ll be preparing the whole week for the game on Saturday night and we won’t alter from that.
“It’s important we go into play-offs on a roll and what better way to do that than with a four point weekend.”
While keen not to look too far ahead, Dutiaume did admit that he would prefer to face Clan in next week’s play-off quarter-finals, despite a run of five straight defeats against the Glasgow club.
“Travel-wise and crowd-wise it would be a great draw, and how exciting would it be?” Dutiaume said.
“Our recent record against them doesn’t concern me - it’s play-off games and anything can happen.
“Both rinks would be sold out and the crowd would be right up for it.
“We’ve played well in Cardiff and beat them at home recently but would we really want to take the long trip down there?
“We’ll worry about all that once this weekend is over - until then we shouldn’t be looking ahead.”
Dutiaume insisted that even though their play-off place is now confirmed, Flyers goals for this weekend will not change.
“It’s vital we find a way to get some confidence going and the best way to do that is to beat two good hockey clubs,” he said.
“I hope our guys do come out and play confident because they are at their best when they’re at ease and don’t overthink the game.
“As soon as they worry about things they can’t control like the atmosphere or the crowd or start looking past the game to how crucial points are we don’t perform at our best.
“The guys have to demand the best out of themselves but they have to play relaxed - we’re not a team that plays well when we put incredible pressure on ourselves.”
Dutiaume expects Flyers to have a say in the title destination but insists he is not motivated by the thought of denying rivals Clan the silverware.
“By my reckoning Braehead will need at least three points this weekend so they’ll need one point or more against us,” Dutiaume said.
“Is it my goal to play title spoilers? Definitely not.
“My goal is to get the wins we need to go into the play-offs with some confidence.
“On the same token we could end up facing Braehead next week so it would be good to send a message that they won’t get an easy ride.
“If by beating them it means they falter at the last hurdle it might leave them struggling for confidence and vulnerable.
“This could turn into a three-game series so any small advantage you can pick up is important.
“We have to see where the chips fall I guess.”
Sunday’s match promises to draw the biggest crowd of the season to the Kirkcaldy rink.
“It’s a great rivalry and by all acoounts the game is near enough a sell out already,” Dutiaume said.
“It will be a great atmosphere and an exciting night of hockey.
“It’s not the first time we’ve ended up in a situation like this with these guys.
“The place will be jumping on Sunday night, but it’s important we go into Saturday and claim two points there first.”