Fife Flyers: Ten years in EIHL – the highs and the lows
When the puck finally drops, Fife Flyers will be able to record two landmarks.
The resumption of ice hockey will mark the club’s decade back in the top flight.
And it will also herald the 25th anniversary of directors Tom Muir and Jack Wishart taking over at the helm.
Any plans to mark the momentous staging posts have been on hold with the sport in limbo for 460 days - and counting - since the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK.
Last week saw the EIHL begin work scheduling the new season but, the reality is a start date is far from set in concrete.
So many factors lie outwith the control of the league that the traditional September face-off cannot be taken as a gimme.
But hockey IS on the horizon - and that’s enough to coax the social media rumour mill out of hibernation.
For fans, season 2021-22 cannot come soon enough, but before hostilities are resumed, it’s worth reflecting on a decade of top flight hockey in Kirkcaldy.
It’s been a journey of highs and lows, layered with a fair bit of frustration as Fife returned to a level that had changed beyond recognition during their seven years at grassroots SNL level.
The decade has been bookended by last placed finishes - the first no surprise considering the team was assembled in a matter of weeks, the last one perhaps best simply forgotten after it never really caught fire.
In between the team has found a mid-table berth punctuated by brief sojourns into the top three, and slumps which saw it tumble to the periphery of the play-offs.
Consistency has been elusive - together with a sense that the club’s full potential has yet to be fully realised.
Flyers went into the EIHL on the clear basis it had to work for them - on and off the ice.
The import-laden league sat at odds with the club’s ethos of icing its own home grown talent. Ten years on, it is a circle that has yet to be squared.
The class of 2011-12 had a dozen Brits on its roster, almost all of them from Fife.
Last season, that number had dwindled almost completely; a drift which continues to sit uneasily with fans keen to see, and support, players brought through the club’s long-established, highly successful junior development programme.
The days of juggling a full-time job and playing top flight hockey - the route followed by previous generations - appears to be over, but the debate goes on.
But the decade brought import hockey back to a rink which reared on star names across the generations.
There have been a host of outstanding team leaders - Ryan Dingle, Danny Stewart sit comfortably at the top of a good list - and players such as Jordan Fulton, Matt Nickerson, Danick Gauthier, and Chase Schaber who have all lit up the rink on match nights.
Add in a sequence of top-drawer netminders from Kevin Regan to Bryan Pitton to Andy Iles and Shane Owen - and genuine finds of the calibre of Charley Mosey, Carlo Finucci and Ian Young, and the club has had the bedrocks of good teams which have savoured silverware via a conference title, and reached the championship finals.
The rivalry with Braehead/Glasgow Clan has run through the past decade like lettering in a stick of rock, and given Scottish hockey some of its biggest crowds in recent memory. Bragging rights remain prized assets for fans.
Head coach, Todd Dutiaume, has remained the sole constant across the decade - through good times and some tough nights when the pressure from the stands for change was impossible to ignore.
Having established Fife in the EIHL, his challenge remains to become one of the league’s big guns - regardless of the budget divides which will always restrict his options.
A decade in, and fans want to see Flyers be the best they can be - on and off the ice.
Setting the bar high raises expectations all round, and will do so once more when the new season gets underway.
Win or lose, they want to see commitment and graft; old fashioned qualities, but ones valued highly at a rink which has run a critical eye over players for over 80 years.
Ten years into their EIHL tenure, the club, of course, continue to do things their way - even it frustrates at times. That thrawness is both a curse and a bedrock.
Dutiaume knows more than anyone how to work with his directors - when to push for more, when to step back regardless of the maelstrom online and in the stands which can, and does, seep into the dressing-room. They have his back.
That bond has been at the heart of his continuous service; a line that goes back to his arrival as a player in 1998-99.
More than 460 days have lapsed since the team’s journey to Coventry for a Friday game was halted with a phone call just as they crossed the Forth Bridge. Game off, season over - a season that really had gone nowhere.
It’s safe to say Dutiaume will already have an idea of who is up for a return, and whose careers have taken different trajectories post-lockdown.
When he gets to announce that team, let alone welcome any parts of it to town, is anyone’s guess.
Flyers have endured world war, and the collapse of the sport, it will return once more and re-adjust to a post-COVID world.
And they will still enthrall and infuriate, possibly in equal measure.
The next decade awaits its script and its stars …