Flyers ready for sternest test yet

Ricard Birzins celebrates his short-handed winner against MK Lightning with Shayne Stockton last Friday. Pic: Steve Gunn
Ricard Birzins celebrates his short-handed winner against MK Lightning with Shayne Stockton last Friday. Pic: Steve Gunn

In-form Fife Flyers will measure their progress this weekend as they come up against both league and play-off champions in back-to-back home fixtures.

Flyers welcome Sheffield Steelers to Fife Ice Arena on Saturday, a side who lifted the play-off title last season, before league winners Cardiff Devils head to town on Sunday.

Fife are in the midst of one of their best ever starts to an EIHL season, with eight wins from the opening 12 fixtures, but head coach Todd Dutiaume expects this to be the toughest weekend of the campaign thus far.

“It’s a big weekend for us,” he said. “This will be our sternest test to date in my opinion and we have to be ready for it.

“We’ve played excellent hockey but can we up our game? Yes, we can.

“We’re not at the peak of what this team can accomplish and we should be shooting to improve every week. It’s going to be a step up in pace against two annual contenders for silverware in this league.

“These are teams that are fighting to scramble up the table as well.

“We’re going to have to earn anything we get. It’s going to be a grind-it-out weekend.”

Key to Flyers solid start has been the special teams, with both powerplay and penalty killing units producing, particularly the PK on home ice, which sits at a near perfect 96.3 per cent.

“Jeff cuts our video and prepares these guys very well on a weekly basis,” Dutiaume said. “We have a group of guys committed to the PK, and committed to doing the right things. They are playing in front of goaltender they want to work with, there’s that closeness, and guys see killing off a penalty as rewarding as scoring a goal.”

Flyers speed on the break has also seen them notch a number of short-handed goals, including Ricard Birzins’ match-winner against Milton Keynes last Friday.

“We don’t look offensively off our kill, it’s get the job done and see out the two minutes,” Dutiaume said.

“If get goal off a breakaway, it’s a huge added bonus. We have a quick bunch but it’s more about being in the right lines and not cheating. It’s the players doing their due diligence which is paying off for them.”

Dutiaume is pleased with the positive reaction his team is receiving from the Fife fans so far this season, and is hopeful for two big crowds this weekend.

“You can tell the two groups are more intertwined and that’s only a positve thing,” he said. “That’s what initially attracted me to come and stay in this town, and you’re starting to see it repeat itself again with this group. We’ve had quality individuals here over the last six years in the EIHL but with this group, there seems to be a connection and it’s one that both sides should nurture.”