All to play for as Flyers make up ground in title race

Fife Flyers celebrate a weekend goal against Dundee Stars. Pic: Steve Gunn
Fife Flyers celebrate a weekend goal against Dundee Stars. Pic: Steve Gunn

Fife Flyers have put themselves back into contention for silverware after making up crucial ground in the race for the Gardiner Conference title.

Braehead Clan’s lead at the top has been cut from 13 points to just six within the space of a fortnight, and with three more meetings between the clubs still to come, it is all to play for.

Flyers complete a stretch of 14 consecutive conference matches this Saturday when Manchester Storm visit Fife Ice Arena and head coach Todd Dutiaume admits two points are vital.

“It’s a massive game - they all are now,” he said. “We’ve clawed our way back into it, but there’s no room for error. That’s the same for all teams now.

“Make an error and you may miss the play-offs, fall out of the running for a championship, or lose control of the conference.

“The zero room for error isn’t solely on us, it’s on everybody’s shoulders and we’re seeing a lot of close results right now.”

Flyers have recovered from a rocky spell in late November and early December to claim 13 points from the last 16 available in conference.

The form revival has also seen the Kirkcaldy side reclaim fifth place in the overall EIHL table, and Dutiaume now has fourth-placed Nottingham Panthers in his sights.

Flyers travel to the National Ice Centre on Sunday to face a Panthers side who returned to the UK as European champions this week following their victory in the IIHF Continental Cup.

“That’s a big, big win and certainly draws a lot of positive attention to our league,” Dutiaume said.

“Hopefully we can catch them with a hangover from that tremendous accomplishment and claw back some points on them.”

Flyers return to form has coincided with the line-up returning to near full strength in recent weeks after an injury hit first half of the season.

Club captain Ryan Dingle and NHL veteran Ryan Jackman missed last weekend’s action, but both are hoping to be fit for the upcoming weekend.

“Dingle was injured in last Friday’s practice and on the advice of our medical team he was not dressed at the weekend as a precaution,” Dutiaume explained.

“He wasn’t training at the start of this week but he will have a physical with us later in the week and it’s my hope that’s he’s in line-up, although I can’t be 100 per cent sure.

“Jackman has made a lot of progress. We had extensive discussions about putting him in the line-up in Edinburgh on Sunday but it was advised that another week’s rest would allow his injury to settle down.

“We could definitely use that presence back there, and what he adds to the team.

“Barring any setbacks, Jacks will be back in the line-up this weekend.”

With a fully fit roster Flyers now carry a spare import but Dutiaume has not ruled out making a further change should the right player become available.

“It’s not a market where there’s tonnes of guys available but if the right piece became available, our first move would be to take it to directors because we certainly feel this team has the potential to acccomplish something this season,” he said.

“By no means are we satisfied with where the team is at right now. As a group we have a lot more to offer.

“That falls to us to get guys to buy in on a period-by-period basis.

“When we pay attention to detail and keep things simple, we pick teams apart, but we can be susceptible to taking periods and shifts off and it’s costly in this league.”