ICE HOCKEY BLOG: Applause as the quiet man exits the stage

1010p013 flyers stars 'Andy Samuel shows his delight after scoring the winner for Fife Flyers against Dundee Stars in the sudden-death play-off of the Celtic Cup final at Fife Ice Arena
1010p013 flyers stars 'Andy Samuel shows his delight after scoring the winner for Fife Flyers against Dundee Stars in the sudden-death play-off of the Celtic Cup final at Fife Ice Arena

HE exited the stage the way he played his hockey - just to the outer edge of the spotlight - but do not under-estimate just how much Fife Flyers will miss Andy Samuel. The quiet man of the team was one of its bedrocks.

The announcement Sammy wasn’t returning for the 2012-13 season was all but buried in the summer signing news. Indeed it was never formally announced.

Like Steven King before him, Sammy simply slipped off the radar. That doesn’t sit right with me.

Like Steven, he deserved a fanfare of applause; a very public thank you for the work he has put in over the past 18 years.

The story of his introduction to hockey has been told many times.

Ron Plumb, Flyers’ irrepresible coach of the mid 1980s, turned up at his primary school - Thornton, from memory -with a bag of kit and a handful of match tickets. A very young Sammy was picked to get dressed as a hockey player - the same uniform he was to wear with great distinction from 1994-2012.

It’s fair to say for every player who is happy to do a school visit there’s an entire line who’d rather slope off and play golf, and they’re usually the ones with the CVs proudly proclaiming how committed their are to working in the community. I won’t name the very prominent 1990s’ Fife import who, when asked to go to a school, shamefully asked ‘‘how much am I getting paid for it?’’

Plumb would be genuinely thrilled to learn that the kid he picked that day went on to lace up his skates and play pro hockey - and in a manner and style befitting of Fife Flyers’ ethos.

He was a championship winner with Fife and Dundee - always thought it was a poor bit of business allowing Sammy to go north of the Tay in the first place - having made his breakthrough in 1994/95. He was part of the club’s ‘kid line’ in the NPL which featured Sammy and Tich (Richard Dingwall) alongside Craig Wilson, and their youthful willingness to have a go, to chase and harry and annoy the life out of the biggest defencemen won roars of approval from the home crowds.

Of the three, Sammy, the quiet man, endured the longest.

His dozen of so years with Fife saw him move from third to second line and, more importantly, into the heart of the machine. He was the engine room - the guy who skated two ways every shift, every game, and left the spotlight to the showmen and the flair players.

He was the guy Mark Morrison knew he could rely on no matter how tired his limbs were or how much he ached. Sammy showed up every single hockey night. That’s why he was twice crowned players’ player of the year - the highest accolade given to any skater. The guys in the dressing-room all knew how much Sammy did.

That quietness had its benefits too.

At the team dinner in the Dean Park Hotel to celebrate the Grand Slam we were seated in a square, facing into each other.

Back then the guys played a game called ‘‘shoe shine’’ which involved one of them leaving their seat, crawling under the tablecloth between all the legs, dabbing a dollop of food on someone’s shoes and getting back to their seat without being noticed, where upon they’d tap their glass and declare ‘‘shoe shine.’’ Only then did the victim realisd he’d been nobbled.

From memory (it was a long night and the beer and wine flowed), Sammy got Mark Morrison - the ultimate prize. Both were sitting directly opposite me, and I have yet to work out how a strapping hockey player executed such a delicate manoeuvre without being caught.

On the ice he was just as effective and unobtrusive simply by motoring up and down the centre of the ice every night, picking up passes and making plays, taking the body and acting as traffic to create the opportunities for his line-mates to ring the red light.

He may not have racked up big numbers, but he rarely missed a game - 30-40 games per season as a mimimum - and that consistent, steady presence will be missed in a tight-knit dressing-room.

As we welcome a new cluster of imports to town, I hope we also find time to properly honour a good servant of our club, and a genuinely decent guy.

>> Tweet your hockey night views to @mattelder_ffp - and see if they make the FFP.

>> Follow me on @fifefreepressed