Eyes on the prize as conference title race enters final stretch

Fife Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume. Pic: Steve Gunn
Fife Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume. Pic: Steve Gunn

Fife Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume has challenged his players to win their three remaining Gardiner Conference games and pile the pressure on their title rivals.

Three wins would see Fife finish their campaign on 45 points, meaning either Braehead Clan or Dundee Stars would need to avoid defeat in all their remaining games to prevent the title coming to Kirkcaldy.

With all three remaining conference fixtures on the road - starting with this Saturday’s make-or-break trip to Braehead Arena - that will be easier said than done, but with his side in good form, Dutiaume has his eyes on the prize.

“For us to put heat on the teams below us, we need to win our remaining games,” Dutiaume said.

“We need to beat Braehead on Saturday - which we’ve just done, and it can be done again - then go into the Edinburgh and Manchester rinks and do the same.

“Potentially, that’s still not enough, but it forces the others to win out - and that’s when the pressure comes.

“It’s easy having games in hand but you need points in the bag.

“If we are making the conference a goal of ours, our final three are must-win games.

“We have to look at this as a three-game mini series to give ourselves a chance of winning our league.”

As well vying for the conference, Flyers are also battling for position in the overall Elite League, where they currently sit seventh, just three points behind fifth-placed Belfast Giants, but eight points ahead of a resurgent Manchester Storm, who sit in the dreaded ninth position.

“We’re immersed in a dog fight and anything is still possible,” Dutiaume said.

“We still have aspirations to climb the Elite League table and secure a play-off spot. Our remaining conference games are huge but there are key league games interspersed that we don’t want to look past.

“We’ve always been successful when we take short-term goals and we’ve been good lately at taking things one game at a time.”

With an impressive record of five wins and two defeats against Clan this season, Flyers are sure to travel to Braehead Arena on Saturday with confidence.

On the flip side, with five defeats in their last six and key players Matt Keith, Matt Haywood and Scott Pitt sidelined by injury, Clan are a wounded side both in terms of recent form and personnel.

However, Dutiaume admitted he has little sympathy for his Clan counterpart, Ryan Finnerty, having endured his own selections problems in the past.

“I never want to see any of our counterparts injured,” he said.

“It’s part of the game – it’s a rough and tumble sport – but we’ve had plenty injuries, suspensions and carrying imports short in the past, so I don’t have a lot of sympathy for making excuses on that side of things.

“Think back to the start of the year – Dorr was out on two separate occasions, we had guys suspended, and Lee’s been playing with an injury for most of the year.

“Maybe it’s a method of taking some heat off the team when you’re not playing so well, but we took plenty heat during our difficult times and we fought our way through it.”

Dutiaume is hopeful that a big travelling support from Fife can help the side claim a second successive victory in Braehead Arena, following the crucial 4-3 win a fortnight ago.

“It’s maybe been a harsher than usual season from the fans, but their support in this final stretch is going to be big,” he said.

“The directors have been very supportive and believed in what we’re trying to accomplish here – and we’re seeing the fruits of that.

“Now that we’re climbing up the charts, it’s a lot more positive atmosphere out there, which is great, because we’re more formidable when we’re as one.”

Dutiaume will go into the weekend with a full line-up, including the fit-again Jeff Lee.

“For the first time in my coaching career, I’ll have an extra import,” he said. “It gives us a decision to make but it’s a good headache to have.”