Goalie heroics as Flyers shut-out Blaze to win EIHL opener

The start of the flashpoint that led to a match penalty for Coventry's Danick Paquette, and the game-deciding seven-minute powerplay for Fife'Pic: Fife Flyers
The start of the flashpoint that led to a match penalty for Coventry's Danick Paquette, and the game-deciding seven-minute powerplay for Fife'Pic: Fife Flyers

Netminder Andy Iles performed heroics as Fife Flyers claimed a shut-out win in their opening Elite League fixture.

Iles had to be on top of his game as the short-handed home side were out-shot 43-20 on home ice by a fast and physical Coventry Blaze side.

And the 25-year-old certainly answered the bell, making several top drawer saves and covering his net with authority to earn a richly deserved man of the match award, and his first clean sheet in only his third competitive game in the UK.

It was just the confidence booster Iles required after conceding seven times in under two periods against Dundee Stars in the Challenge Cup the previous week, and will go a long way towards convincing fans that they have another star goalie in their ranks.

With injuries ruling out Shayne Stockton, Chase Schaber and Sean Beattie, the home side were short on bodies, but certainly not short on the attributes required to win games in the EIHL.

While heavily out-shot, Flyers still looked a threat going forward and were more than a match for Blaze in most other departments, particularly in the physical confrontations where the Kirkcaldy side gave as good as they got.

The turning point of the match came in the 36th minute when Blaze forward Danick Paquette led with his knee as he landed a dangerous late hit on Charlie Mosey, which sparked a huge reaction from Fife players and briefly turned the game into a brawl.

Mosey initially retaliated, before Thomas Muir leapt in to drop the gloves with the Blaze man. Ross Moyer and Evan Bloodoff also got involved, as did Dax Lauwers, David Clements and Ben Lake for Coventry all of whom were sent to the sin bin.

To make matters worse for Paquette, he appeared to man-handle an off-ice official who attempted to prevent him from re-entering the ice from the penalty box, and was subsequently ejected on a match penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The end result was a seven-minute powerplay for Flyers, which proved to be the game-changer as the hosts struck twice with the extra man to turn a goalless hockey game into one they had taken firm control of.

The end result was a hard fought 2-0 win, a perfect start to the league campaign, and some questions answered following the debacle in Dundee.

Head coach Todd Dutiaume said afterwards: "The guys needed to pick themselves up after the performance in Dundee last week.

"They knew we were better than that, and they came out tonight and produced a solid team performance.

"Special mention has to go to Andy bouncing back from last week.

"It's a great confidence-booster for our starting goal-tender and we know that's what he's capable of.

"He absorbed some early pressure in the first, then in second period had to take on a lot, but did a good job."

The match tempo was a step up from the anything Flyers have faced so far, and they were almost caught off guard straight from opening face-off as Coventry swept into their zone at pace and Iles had to scramble to keep the puck out.

Flyers were quickly up the other end with Bloodoff forcing Kevin Nastiuk into a big save at his back post.

Ian Young hit the post towards the end of Flyers first powerplay, while at the other end, Marc-Olivier Vallerand was guilty of a bad miss when he found himself all alone in the Flyers zone but fired effort off target.

Flyers were on the back foot at times but they were competing well, and they made a bright start to period two with Carlo Finucci forcing Nastiuk to deflect a one-timer over the bar, before Peter LeBlanc saw a goal-bound effort clip the netminder as it slipped just wide.

Blaze hit back and two huge saves from Iles were required to deny Lake in the same shift as the Fife defence went temporarily AWOL. The goalie was called upon again moments later as Blaze went on the PP, and drew huge cheers from the crowd as he made save-after-save.

Those moments proved crucial as the fights broke out shortly afterwards following the hit from Paquette on Mosey, which could have been a 2+10 in its own right, but his off-ice antics ensured the Blaze hothead would play no further part.

With a seven-minute powerplay, Flyers took their chance to seize the initiative with the opening goal after just 30 seconds. LeBlanc was the architect as his pass was tipped home in front of the net by Danick Gauthier.

The second period ended but Flyers remained on PP and they doubled their lead 1.09 after the restart thanks to a wonderful piece of individual skill from Liam Heelis, who skated in from the wing, past Nastiuk, and delayed his shot until the angle was right before firing home.

The Coventry goalie took out his frustration on his stick, which he battered against the goal frame before launching into the air as Flyers fans cheered.

Flyers showed plenty heart in the closing stages as they held onto their lead amid intense pressure, and despite a 6 on 4 powerplay for Coventry, who withdrew their netminder for the closing stages, they could not find a way past an inspired Iles.

Much has been made about Flyers need for an enforcer -- and a tough D-man would still be a great addition to this line-up -- but this team is showing that it has got toughness to go with the hard work and skill.

They may have rode their luck at times, but if Flyers can play with this same intensity, passion and grit when they reach full compliment, they might well have a team capable of doing something this year.