Fife Flyers: Three games in three nights in three countries – the toughest weekend yet

There’s a real sense of Groundhog Day starting to engulf Fife Flyers.

Friday, 28th January 2022, 11:58 am

The losses are mounting, the team remains in desperate need of strengthening, and it is marooned in last place in the Elite League.

And this weekend’s ‘three in three’ is just about as draining as it gets - three games in three nights in three different countries.

Friday night in Cardiff, Saturday in Sheffield, and then home to face Steelers in Kirkcaldy on Sunday.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Assistant coach Jeff Hutchins on the bench with the team on their last visit to Cardiff Devils (Pic: Dave Williams)

Their record against the two clubs isn’t good, four straight losses to Steelers, and just one win in three starts against Devils.

It’s a tough end to a difficult month which has yielded just one league win in seven starts, and the atmosphere-killing spectacle of games being played in front of restricted crowds.

Read More

Read More
1984:  These pictures first appeared in the Fife Free Press 38 years ago

February can only be better - indeed, it must be if the club is to have any hopes of salvaging anything from this season.

Scenes from Fife Flyers last visit to Cardiff (Pic: James Assinder)

Eight wins from 35 starts sums up the story so far.

There are still a chunky 30-odd games to be played, but the optics aren’t good as we turn into the second half of the campaign.

One regulation win in the last 13 league games.

Seven points behind eighth placed Coventry Blaze who also have four games in hand - and that slot is where Fife must finish to make the post-season competition.

Fife Flyers have yet to win a game against Sheffield Steelers this season (Pic: Dean Woolley)

The sheer amount of road Flyers have to make up would be daunting to a team playing with real focus and energy - they are doing neither.

A consistent 60-minute hockey game remains as elusive as ever, prompting Todd Dutiaume, head coach, to express his frustration at what he termed ‘serial offenders.’

At Coventry, Flyers coughed six goals without reply, at Sheffield a tight 1-0 game - in which they were very much in contention - was blown wide open with a third period collapse which wiped out all hopes of a Challenge Cup semi-final spot and turned the home second leg into a dead rubber.

The list of lapses runs deep - moments, shifts, sometimes entire periods where Fife look laboured, are tripped up by individual errors, and bereft of ideas or a spark.

The buzz which surrounded some smashing performances back in November already feels like a distant memory.

A second successive last-place finish would not sit well with a fan base that is showing clear signs of diminishing.

So, the numbers rinkside this Sunday will be a temperature check for the club - on and off the ice.

It marks the first game played in Kirkcaldy since Scottish Government restrictions on crowd numbers were lifted, and the first since COVID protocols wiped out the traditionally popular Christmas programme.

Given that background, it should be a gimme that the rink is busy and noisy as fans finally get back inside.

But, Flyers’ attendances have been on a downward curve for far too long. The anticipation which marked the sport’s return from lockdown was lost in the most wretched of starts.

The last game staged on home ice before the interruptions was on December 12. Just 901 fans paid to watch the team lose 5-1 to Manchester Storm - a shadow of the lively, near 3000-crowds of the Heineken era, and well down on the 2000 benchmark which used to see coaches hauled ‘upstairs’ for an explanation.

Now, four-figures have started to become three - and the real worry among some long-standing observers is that a new, low benchmark is being set.

The club’s grim form, the sense of staleness, and the lack of entertainment are cited among reasons why fans have walked. People who have spent their entire adult lives rinkside are now absentees. It’s a desperately sad situation.

Hockey is a way of life to generations of folk round here, but Flyers seem to be slipping off their radar.

Post-lockdown, it has struggled to undertake any meaningful community engagement as players have had to be kept separate to stay healthy, people also retreated into their own bubbles and their priorities changed, and the opportunities to visit clubs and schools dwindled to zero.

The current imports could probably walk round town un-recognised - unthinkable to the stars who lit up hockey nights across the BNL, the Heineken era and even back in the ‘50s when snazzily dressed guys with cool accents sprinkled a little stardust across a post-war mining town.

Regardless of the challenges - and they are plentiful in these current times - when just 900 fans pay to see the team, the long-term decline is painfully evident, and painful to witness.

Those hanging in and hanging on are looking for the spark that will ignite the second half of this season.

Flyers have gone into plenty of tough weekends before and come up big.

They need to do so again.

Thank you for reading this article on our free-to-read website. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

Please consider purchasing a subscription to our print newspaper to help fund our trusted, fact-checked journalism.