Fife Flyers: five key issues fans want addressed in summer to re-ignite the team

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“The Fife way” has been debated endlessly when it comes to ice hockey in Kirkcaldy. That thrawness can be an asset and an anchor - but there’s more than a gnawing feeling among the fanbase it might be pulling everything down rather than holding it firm.

That Fife Flyers have toiled post-lockdown is evident for all to see. The stats are grim. Three successive seasons in the bottom two and a worrying long-term decline in attendances. The two are, of course, inextricably linked. When a gate-based team sees its average drop from 2100 to 1200 in six seasons - at a time when clubs across the EIHL are reporting growth - and when costs are rocketing, it doesn’t take an accountant to work out this is potentially troubling territory.

The summer of 2023 sees the club at a crossroads - does it carry on doing what it has always done, the Fife way, or does it press the reset button?

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Flyers, and the rink - and the two are inseparable - have much to mull over.

Pics: Derek Young & Jillian McFarlanePics: Derek Young & Jillian McFarlane
Pics: Derek Young & Jillian McFarlane

Todd Dutiaume, head coach and GM, recently highlighted the bigger picture issues facing the club, including the future security of the rink and the need to get people back inside it. His comments sparked a lot of debate online.

These are some of the key issues highlighted, and which will form the core of debate across the off-season

The coaches:

There is no escaping the fact a chunk of the fan base wants to see a new approach on the ice – and new faces behind the bench. They want a team that is competitive, skates with a bit of passion and grit - and wins. Six victories on home ice last season was well below the acceptable threshold.

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Todd Dutiaume (Pic: Scott Wiggins)Todd Dutiaume (Pic: Scott Wiggins)
Todd Dutiaume (Pic: Scott Wiggins)

But, Flyers have operated with just two coaches in the past 27 years - Mark Morrison and Todd Dutiaume. It has stuck with who it knows and trusts, regardless of results and outcomes.

But, if the directors go with the status quo then they must spell out their expectations - and outline clearly what will be done differently to bring back the fans who have simply lost interest. And, be in no doubt, the over-arching sense of direction - or the perception of a lack of one - comes from the very top.

If they opt to make changes, do they break 27 years of habit and bring in someone new? Do they move Dutiaume into a full-time GM role - that post is key to enacting any fundamental change but can only work with complete autonomy - to run the off-ice show, and either hand the coaching reigns to Jeff Hutchins or, bring in someone new? If so, who? Anyone stepping into role will have to quickly understand and embrace the ‘Fife way.’

The team:

Flyers’ retro shirt night was a big hit with fans, but if anything, it only served to remind them of what - or rather who - they miss; Caisey Haines, Derek Rohl, Derek Keller, Jason Pitton and Kriss Hogg. Players who lit up the rink.

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Recruitment may be much more challenging post COVID, but fans want to see the club raising the bar and finding players who will make this sport compelling once again. There is a core within the 2022-23 which can be built around and improved. Imports Kamerin Nault, Brayden Sherbinin, Shane Owen, Jonas Emmerdahl, Janne Kivilahti, and Mikael Johansson - with a proviso he delivers much more in the way of goals - are all on various wish lists.

The thorny issue of icing British - and local - players remains unresolved, but Reece Cochrane’s development underlined it is possible. The fans want to see more icing regularly.

In the community:

The return of the club’s schools programme last season absolutely made a difference - look at the turnout on the last night, and the noise it generated.

Flyers get a ballpark 10% return on tickets distributed which is pretty decent, but it has to hit the ground running at the very start of the season and have a rolling programme of activities from week one, and not just to schools either.

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I’d have players in the town centres daily/weekly - and not just Kirkcaldy - doing meet and greets and handing out flyers and tickets in coffee shops, college campuses, and leisure centres; anywhere people meet in number. Forget a half dozen passes here and there, this has to be scaled up to generate a) interest b) excitement and c) returns.

That can only happen with the sanction of the boardroom. It then has to step back and let a team of helpers led with clear guidance by a full-time off ice team re-energise the fan base. Opening the doors and looking out in hope on match night isn’t enough any more.

Building bridges:

The sense of disconnect between the club/rink and the fanbase has been simmering for a few years. The hundreds who attended the fans’ forum in 2020 felt as though nothing has happened. Worse, they weren’t listened to. Results can kill a team’s season. Apathy can kill a club.

On the back of Dutiaume’s ‘big picture’ the ideas started to flow again - despite the last three seasons, fans want involved and want to help. From a fans’ rep in the boardroom to crowdfunding to bringing new ideas to the table for match night, they have a burning desire to make this club great again. Open the doors, and let them in with an open mind.

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Match Night:

From the moment the doors open to the team leaving the ice, every aspect of match night has to be completely overhauled. That involves both the club and the rink.

Sort out the speakers and let fans actually hear what is happening. That muffled, woefully inaudible sound reaching some sections isn’t acceptable.

The video scoreboard - the single biggest ‘wow’ factor hanging above centre ice was woefully under-used. It should be front and centre of every warm-up, every period break and even in a host of breaks in play, so much so that any time the puck goes dead, all eyes automatically look up. Imagine the reaction to an immediate action replay of a goal under review or a big hit?

Flyers did so little with it, it felt like a wasted opportunity, but creating a buzz is key. We know the team feeds off it, so the club has to work much harder off ice to generate the noise long before the puck is dropped.