Fife Flyers will have to overcome injury and suspension if they are to reach the play-off finals.
Four players – Paul Crowder, Scott Aarssen, Evan Stoflet and Chase Schaber – are all doubtful for this weekend’s quarter-final against Nottingham Panthers, with another, Brett Bulmer, definitely out after being hit with a suspension by the Elite League Department of Player Safety.
Bulmer’s three-game ban, for a hit which injured Glasgow Clan’s Brendan Connolly in the final league game on Sunday, effectively ends his season unless Fife reach the play-off final.
The DOPS verdict has caused uproar among Flyers fans who have watched a number of their own players hurt in similar incidents in recent weeks with smaller, or no suspensions at all.
It leaves the Kirkcaldy side facing the prospect of being without five import players, as well as British defenceman Chris Wands, for their most important matches of the season.
However, while refusing to comment directly on the Bulmer ban, head coach Todd Dutiaume challenged his players to rise above the adversity.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” he told the Press.
“Instead of licking our wounds, we’re going to use it as a motivation to throw our frustrations and everything at Nottingham.
“Hopefully the supporters get behind us.
“The guys are going to lay it on the line this weekend and it would be nice for them to get a big send off in a packed FIA.”
Bulmer – a former NHL player with Minnesota Wild – finished the regular season as Flyers top scorer with 57 points in 57 games, and his absence has turned the odds firmly in Panthers favour.
“The beauty of it is we have nothing to lose,” Dutiaume said. “We’ll be viewed as big underdogs now, but that’s the way we like it here in Fife.”
Crowder has given some hope that he could feature in play-offs after training with the team on Tuesday.
“He had a skate on Tuesday night and looked okay,” Dutiaume said.
“That’s a step in the right direction. The others are just day-to-day.
“The reality they are facing is play or your season is over, and that’s tough on them.
“Nobody wants their season cut short by injury.
“That’s one of the most frustrating things for a player who came in at the start of the season and played all year for this purpose. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.
“If there’s guys that can play, they will, if not they obviously have the support of myself and the organisation.”
Flyers finished the season on 66 points, just four behind third-placed Nottingham, a team they edged in the head-to-head battles over the course of the season, taking nine points from six fixtures, while Panthers claimed seven.
“If you look at our success against Nottingham in recent years, we’ve competed well against them,” Dutiaume said.
“Our guys have played very well down there this season, all the games have been tight, and it has the makings of a good series. It’s play-off hockey and guys know they have to elevate their games to another level. They’ve been playing at a high level for a while, but now they have to play two perfect games.”
Flyers host Panthers in the first leg at Fife Ice Arena on Saturday (7.15 pm), before travelling on Sunday to the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham (4.00pm)
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