Fife Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume admits that Saturday’s trip to Braehead Arena could make-or-break his side’s Gardiner Conference title aspirations.
A superb run of form has allowed Flyers to close the gap on leaders Braehead Clan to six points ahead of the big meeting in Glasgow this weekend - the first of three meetings between the clubs between now and the end of the season.
Clan have won all five previous conference fixtures between the great rivals so far, and Dutiaume insists the tables must be turned on Saturday to turn up the heat in the title race.
“It all comes down to this,” he told the Press. “We’ve done all the leg work up until now, but ultimately it’s our head-to-head matches for the rest of the year that are going to matter.
“This is going to be the difference between us being four points back or eight points back. Four back it’s game on, eight back and we’re depending on some favours.
“There will be 11 games left in the conference so it’s not an out-and-out title decider, but it’s close. You don’t want to start falling adrift at this stage.
“Although we’ve had a bunch of big results recently, Saturday is the ‘biggie’ of the year so far.”
Full of confidence after collecting 17 points from the last 20 available, and with a full strength line-up at his disposal, Dutiaume is promising a different Flyers side from the one that Clan have beaten six times in a row in league and cup.
“A huge key for us against this Braehead team is health,” he said.
“They’re a deep side and it will be the first time this year we’ve faced them with a full squad, as well as renewed confidence.
“I think we are better than our previous match-ups suggest.
“We’ve beaten the Contintenal Cup champions, and other good ice hockey clubs. Hopefully now it’s Braehead’s turn.”
Flyers go into the big match on the back of a brilliant four point weekend which included a 4-3 overtime win over Manchester Storm on home ice followed by a superb victory on penalty shots away to Nottingham Panthers on Sunday.
“The guys did all we could have asked out of them last weekend,” Dutiaume added.
“They were two tight matches but it’s amazing what a little bit of confidence will do for a club.
“We’re now joint fourth in the league – which is the highest we’ve ever been in the standings at this time in the season.
“It’s been a good run of form and as we get back to full health we’d like to see that continue.”
With captain Dingle expected to return from injury Dutiaume faces the prospect of having to leave out one of his imports this weekend.
“There’s nothing wrong with healthy competition,” he said.
“Ryan is the leader of this team and while the guys performed admirably without him, injecting him into the line-up means we instantly become better.”
Flyers follow the trip to Braehead with another big match – this time on home ice – as EIHL leaders Cardiff Devils visit Kirkcaldy on Sunday.