Comment: Fife Flyers - time for decisive changes

Fife Flyers celebrate a goal against Braehead Clan (Pic: Steven Gunn)
Fife Flyers celebrate a goal against Braehead Clan (Pic: Steven Gunn)

If Todd Dutiaume had £1 for every time he has been asked about changes to his team, he’d be able to draft in two new imports without so much as making a dent in the playing budgets.

It’s the talking point that has dominated the agenda for over one month. The elephant in the room.

Every team makes changes. Everyone except Fife.

Teams leading the league will make changes to underpin their drive for silverware.

Teams challenging for top spot will bring in an extra forward – a sniper – or a proven playmaker to give them an extra edge in the run-in.

Teams in mid-table keen to re-inforce their play-off bid will look for the one new player who could add a new dimension to the their play.

Teams battling to secure a top eight slot will go looking for an on-ice leader who can make a difference.

Teams at the bottom will shake up the room in a bid to save their season.

Everyone changes. Everyone except Fife.

That’s the perception whether the club likes it or not.

You can construct the perfect team in summer and still have to make changes as you assess the quality of the opposition, get a feel for the style and pace of the league, and see how, what looked great on paper, hasn’t fully translated to the ice pad. It’s part and parcel of the sport.

The reasons teams make changes are incredibly varied.

Sometimes a coach will want to simply shake up the room and hurtle players out of their comfort zones. Sometimes they need to respond to injury issues or players simply not clicking - Braehead’s marquee signing, Jeff Ulmer, a vastly experienced player with NHL experience, was gone within ten games.

And sometimes it’s just a response to a gut instinct for the need to make a change.

But if you want success, if you want to be a credible contender, then doing nothing isn’t an option.

Right now, Fife Flyers as a club seem to be doing the equivalent of the mannequin challenge - immobile and silent - while others make moves, and at the very time fans, and the coaching staff, are saying, quite clearly, things need to change.

You can hear the exasperation in Dutiaume’s voice as he prepares to roll out the party line one more time.

He has a player, Shayne Stockton, out injured long-term, possibly for the season.

He has a player, James Isaacs, in on undefined temporary cover, a defenceman playing on the wing - two issues which the club’s PR has done little to clarify or keep fans informed about.

He also has guys who haven’t fired or worked maybe as he hoped. They know it too. That’s part of hockey.

In short, there is scope to make moves.

But, here’s the rub. He also has a team that has gelled and is doing pretty well in the standings despite the doubts, and despite some off nights. Top four in a hugely competitive EIHL is pretty good going.

If Fife could stay there until the end of the season that would represent their best ever EIHL season. You get the feeling the longer do they stay up there, the less desire there is for the club to sanction any moves.

But, realistically, to achieve that aim, the club HAS to act, and act decisively.

In sport timing is crucial. Dithering is potentially disastrous.

As a club, Fife are conservative with a small ‘c.’

It will always do what it believes is right for the team and won’t pander to the court of public opinion.

It is as far removed from the ‘hire ‘em, fire ‘em’ school of hockey management as is possible to find, instead adopting a paternal ‘wait and see’ approach to allow players time to come good - David Brown’s flapping start to last season ended with fans lauding him to the hilt.

That approach is admirable, and the faith has been repaid in the past, but in marching to its own beat there’s a danger of a thrawn-ness seeping through the club’s soul; and that unique Fife thrawn-ness too where you simply won’t take a course of action even if you know it’s good for you.

Of course every change comes with a financial cost - and that factor has to be added to the mix - but in sport, it’s all about making the right move at the right time.

Get it right and a team, like Fife, that is doing well can suddenly ignite, and match nights go to a whole new level of intensity, excitement and atmosphere.

That buzz brings more folk through the doors - speculate, accumulate and, hopefully, celebrate.

Imagine this Fife team with a power forward and a gritty extra blueliner - maybe not the out and out enforcer many fans want, but someone who will add to the team toughness that the coaching staff, and the players, say is there.

The cornerstones are all in place - Shane Owen, a rock solid netminder, Ric Jackman’s Stanley Cup experience on a blue line that has the solidity that comes from guys such as Russ Moyer and Kyle Haines; a leader in Ryan Dingle, the man who, to steal a line from Bruce Springsteen’s introductions to his E Street bandmates ‘’brings the power night after night after night’’, the drive and experience of Brendan Brooks, and the huge input of Justin Fox.

It’s what Flyers choose to add, as much as replace, that will determine how their season pans out from here.

Make the moves that unlock the clear potential within the team, or hang fire and go with what you have knowing, deep down, it could be - should be - better.

Either way it’s decision time. The time to hesitate is through.