Fife Flyers: Todd Dutiaume builds new team against tightest of recruitment deadlines
There are barely 44 days until the 2021-22 ice hockey season gets underway - and Fife Flyers have a lot to cram into a very short space of time.
Head coach Todd Dutiaume is building a roster of 14 imports and five Brits.
A spree of signing news on Wednesday took the total names revealed to six - just enough for one line.
Dutiaume is accustomed to working to tight deadlines. There is no doubt other players are already in the bag but yet to be unannounced, but restarting the entire operation after an 18-month lockdown – and near total radio silence from the club – is new.
And the pandemic has also skewed the career paths of many players, changing the pool available to all clubs.
Since March 2020, many have taken jobs elsewhere, veterans looking for one more year before hanging them up have had to re-think their plans, and the momentum of guys through the junior ranks temporarily spiked.
“Finding guys to hit the ice isn’t a problem,” said Dutiaume. “Finding the right guys is more of a challenge.”
Dutiaume admits the ripples from the pandemic will be felt for some time yet as the sport emerges slowly from hibernation into a very different world, but the ties that bind players to dressing-rooms will endure.
“There will be guys retiring just as new players emerge from college and coaching programmes.,” he said. “It may take a year or two for things to balance out.
“Guys who maybe want to play pro for a year or two might re-think their plans, step back and get a job out with the sport. Guys with families will also look for that stability.
“The typical type of player we want to recruit is definitely out there, and the fact that a number of teams are still recruiting shows there is heavy competition for them.”
And once the CVs are studied, tapes watched and references taken up, there remains the challenge of re-assuring players to travel thousands of miles to play hockey from autumn until next Spring.
In the middle of a global pandemic, Kirkcaldy can feel a very long way from home for all imports.
Dutiaume said: “Here we can see what is happening with the stats and how the virus is going. Guys out in the prairies won’t have that depth of knowledge - they may only hear the numbers.
“Hockey is a small world, and anyone we are looking to sign knows they can get first hand reference from former players.
“We are lucky that we have many guys who will speak honestly, and very positively about the team and the town. They have nothing to say other than great things.”
With Flyers’ recruitment up and running after its now traditional slow start, the coach is anticipating a busy few weeks before players start to arrive in town early in September.
“I’m used too working to tight deadlines, “ he said. “but this is the tightest.
“That said, we’re working away and doing well.
“There was an arms race for a lot of UK players, and we lost out on a couple, but we got a fantastic player in Craig Peacock. It was good to be able to meet him, play some golf and get to know him.”
The arrival of the talented Brit adds a new dimension to what promises to be a new look team - one that the coach wants to excite after the aborted 2019-20 season failed to ignite and left Flyers floundering in tenth, and last, place.
If there was an upside to lockdown, it was that it halted what had become a tough grind. Eighteen months on, and the cycle is ready to begin once more.
Soon the players will arrive, the meet and greets will return, the fans will take their seats rinkside, and the puck will drop.
Normality feels just a slapshot away.