Fife Flyers set for breakthrough season?

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A clear line has been drawn underline last season. For Fife Flyers’ coaching team the focus is solely on 2015-16 - a new season with a new team and a new ethos.

And, after a short but heartening pre-season, there’s a welcome a buzz of anticipation surrounding the club once more.

A crowd of 2200 for a pre-season exhibition - more than Raith Rovers have achieved for any game yet this season -followed a huge turnout for the shirt launch, and an announcement of record season ticket sales.

Twelve months ago Flyers reconvened amid talk of a serious challenge for silverware. This time round they simply got on with building a team quietly and efficiently - and left the rest to hype up their marquee signings.

And coming in under the radar is exactly how Fife like to do things.

The challenge now is to meet - and manage - the fans’ expectations in a league that has undergone quite a transformation during the summer recess.

It looks like being the year of the enforcer as clubs have sought to out-do each other in the bruiser stakes - only Fife opted out of the sport’s equivalent of the arms race - while, there are a few NHLers to be found around the circuit, and, in Scotland, all four clubs have undergone major rebuilding.

Quite how the dice roll is open to debate.

Sheffield Steelers will face a renewed challenge from Belfast and Nottingham, who both under-performed last season, while all eyes will be on Braehead to see if they can repeat last season’s thrilling surge to the top of the table - a championship challenge that came up so agonisingly short - and into the Champions League.

And then there’s Cardiff Devils who’ve built a smart-looking roster and who, as a club, are now making up for the time lost during some chaotic previous management.

Barring a cataclysmic collapse, that’s also five of the eight play-off spots pretty much accounted for - it’d be a serious shock of any of them missed the post-season competition - which means the chasing pack of Coventry, Fife, Dundee, Edinburgh and newcomers Manchester will be more intense than ever.

There’s a general view that Fife could, possibly even should, be a solid top six EIHL team as a baseline - one that is no longer content to hang on to the coat-tails of eighth spot.

The club has settled well into the EIHL. It’s no longer the new kid on the block, and Todd Dutiaume’s new-look team - where work ethic is key - might just be the one to deliver the necessary breakthrough year.

He finally got the green light to go with a full complement of imports from the start - that’s been a major impediment since day one of top flight hockey -- and that depth will ease the pressure on the players who were logging huge, almost exhaustive ice time to plug the gaps even before injuries took their toll.

He has a good mix of ambitious young skaters and experienced players, and the pre-season performances suggested a collective work ethic better than anything we saw last season.

Wins against teams such as Edinburgh - another side with a roster overhaul - are crucial to progress in the conference, while the ability to take points from the big guns such as the Giants mean Flyers should have no reason to fear shooting for a top six spot.

Achieve that, and suddenly playing hockey in Kirkcaldy in front of potentially 2500-plus fans every Saturday night will be a sheer blast.

The rink remains an incredibly tough and hostile place to play for opposition, but it can be equally harsh on any Flyers who under-perform.

Fans in Fife expect commitment and effort. They’ll thole a defeat provided those qualities are clearly visible. They’ll cut guys slack if they see them giving their all. They won’t, however, put up with a team that short changes them - at times last season you could feel the frustration seep from the stands, down the rinkside boards and on to the bench and the ice pad as goals were carelessly coughed, concentration wandered at key moments, and individuals either did their own thing or simply disappeared for a shift or two.

The evidence, so far, suggests, those issues have been more than addressed in a summer of recruitment, but the first real tests comes this weekend with a double header against a Coventry Blaze that combines guile with grit.

Fife need points from the opening matches - something they’ve struggled to deliver in past seasons - not only to get them up and running, but to really ignite that pre-season buzz.

The schedule is packed with big games and potentially great hockey nights.

If the team gels quickly and the new players bond to deliver a few instant Ws then Flyers will be hugely competitive, effective and a joy to watch.

Like a tide, the ebb and flow of a new hockey season is about to flow once more.

Enjoy it. It’s going to be pretty special.

>> Fife Flyers v Coventry Blaze, Saturday, Fife Ice Arena - follow @Mattelder_ffp for live updates on Twitter.