Fife Flyers start 2019 with win over MKL, but it wasn’t pretty

Fife Flyers v MKLightning, January 2019 (Pic: Jillian McFarlane)
Fife Flyers v MKLightning, January 2019 (Pic: Jillian McFarlane)

Fife Flyers started 2019 win a 4-3 win over MK Lightning, but this wasn’t a game fans will dwell on for any great length of time.

On a cold night at the tail end of the festive holidays, it felt flat from start to finish.

Bari McKenzie, Fife Flyers, playing his 500th EIHL game (Pic: Jillian McFarlane)

Bari McKenzie, Fife Flyers, playing his 500th EIHL game (Pic: Jillian McFarlane)

The atmosphere was muted, and there was no fanfare for the return of Chase Schaber and Evan Bloodoff, or even the 500th EIHL appearance of Bari McKenzie - three significant moments which would have got the crowd animated, and given them reason to cheer to the rafters.

And Flyers need that buzz.

The team’s confidence thrives on it and, perhaps disconcertingly for a club sitting top four, can be dented by the very lack of it.

The whole night, on and off the ice, just felt tired as Lightning, a last-placed hockey club icing their back up netminder, made things rather stuffy for a Fife side that didn’t fully click into a groove.

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But, some nights you take the win, and move on. This was one of them.

The visitors led three times, and it felt like Fife needed something special to finally crack this game. It came via a short-handed match winner from Carlo Finucci in the final minute.

The margin of victory could have been greater – Flyers had several two on one breaks which, on any other night, they would have executed, and they had more than their share of good chances across the three periods of hockey to take control.

Todd Dutiaume, head coach, admitted, it wasn’t the best all-round performance, but the stats will show it delivered the winning start to the second half of the season that he wanted, and needed.

There were certainly positives to take from a cold night rinkside.

Jordan Buesa set the bar in terms of work-rate and commitment, and his goal and MoM award were both thoroughly deserved.

“The crowd really associates with the work ethic be brings to the team,” said Dutiaume.

Buesa’s stand-out show allowed Schaber to ease himself back into the line-up after months out, while Bloodoff marked his return with a goal and a solid outing.

Flyers rolled with four lines as the game progressed, and had good pockets of pressure which could easily have yielded a few goals with some sharper finishing - but credit to Lightning netminder Goss who kept his team very much in the mix with some solid saves.

Lightning’s opening goal after six minutes certainly muted the atmosphere – a great power play strike with Ivan Sijan burying Andreas Valdix’s pass with a laser of a shot from the left wing.

Paul Crowder had Flyers level on the powerplay play just four minutes later before Lightning struck once more.

They soaked up some huge Fife pressure, broke superbly, and George Golovkovs was allowed to skate through centre ice before dropping a peach of a wrist shot past Shane Owen at 17:42

Buesa had Fife level within 30 seconds to tie the opening period, and, if anything, they had the better of the middle stanza - Bloodoff teed up McKenzie but he just couldn’t get enough on the puck to turn it home and then Finucci opted to shoot, and shoot high, when he had Schaber wide open in support. Two great two on one breaks which could have turned this game round.

Schaber also saw a mighty shot blocked by Goss, Joe Basaraba and Cazzola buzzed round the net, but Lightning survived, and headed into the second break 3-2 up thanks Radek Meidl’s neat finish.

Flyers were handed a four-minute powerplay at the very start of the third as Valdix sat out an accidental high sticks penalty, and Bloodoff converted to tie the game.

With ten minutes left, they were given a five on three powerplay as Michael Fine went for hooking, and a frustrated Nelson Armstrong took a minor for voicing his opinions - not the best time to deliver a quite ghastly PP shift.

In the end this game was won and lost, via a mistake.

With Dannick Gauthier binned for tripping, Lightning had their big chance to seal the match. Instead a howler of a pass from a defenceman was seized by Finucci who scuttled towards goal and executed a short handed goal with just 39 seconds to play.

“We were not at our best,” accepted Dutiaume. “The system MK play makes it look like there isn‘t a lot going on – it’s meant to kill the game and that is their intention, but we had plenty of chances to finish things off.”