Fife Flyers: ‘We have to fix holes in line up’ says head coach Todd Dutiaume
Fife Flyers face three games in three days as the club searches for a spark to ignite the new ice hockey season.
The club’s new-look and largely inexperienced roster managed just two goals in two defeats at the weekend, sparking a wave of concern among fans.
A 6-1 loss on home ice to Dundee Stars was followed with a 5-1 defeat after a long road trip to Cardiff Devils.
Todd Dutiaume, head coach, described that first loss as “a cold, wet slap to the face” and publicly criticised his side for stepping back from the physical side of the game and its lack of effort.
But, conversely, he saw more from them in Wales on Sunday - and, in the face of some tough social media criticism, threw an arm around his players as they prepare to face Belfast Giants in Kirkcaldy on Friday and across the Irish Sea on Sunday, with a road trip to Tayside to go head to head with Stars in between.
All three games are in the Challenge Cup qualifying stages - and Fife need a win to get themselves off the mark in a tournament they have made little headway in throughout their EIHL tenure.
“We have the bones of a team here,” Dutiaume said. “We’re playing a couple of positions short in a league where the standard once again has gone up.
“Down in Cardiff, the guys put in a significant amount of effort, which was happy and frustrating at the same time - Devils exposed the holes we know about in the line up.
“We have to fix these. This is on on-going project.”Dutiaume is acutely aware he needs experienced pros to bolster the line-up and provide the on-ice leadership and hockey smarts necessary to survive in the EIHL.
With training camps being cut down in North America, players may look to Europe as an option - and Fife need to be ready to move.
“We have wonderful people in this squad, but they are young pros who need guidance. It is my responsibility to bring in players who will provide that leadership on and off the ice and teach them how to be good full time pros.
“We can’t play short.
“And the majority of our guys have not played at all for 18 months because of the pandemic - no one can take that time away from sport, step back and be game sharp. That’s a huge ask.”One issue of contention among fans was the club’s late start to recruitment in July after 18 months of near radio silence throughout the pandemic.
Dutiuame understands the frustrations - he is used to operating to tight deadlines, but this year was the toughest challenge yet.
But by way of context, he explained: “Everyone out there knows we started late.
“It was in July when we started, but until that point we didn’t know what the Scottish Government was going to do with fans getting back rinkside.
“Without fans, were we going to sign guys and mess with their livelihoods, and they pass up trials elsewhere when we don’t even know if this (the season) is going to happen?
“These are valid points, but it also got to the point we had to move or there would not be a team, and we did that in record time.”
The coach insists it is an on-going project - “we are not sitting idle, we have been looking since July and have not stopped. That may be the perception but it isn’t the case” - and he believes his new recruits will find their feet in one of the toughest rinks on the circuit.
A win would ease much of the pressure - but so too would a performance which meets with the fans’ expectations.
Belfast’s recent visit saw them swarm all over Fife only for Flyers to grab a lead and then carve out, but not execute, several chances to blow the game open.
Against Dundee, they didn’t deliver.
“I have no problem with the team being booed last week if they do not put in a shift,” said Dutiaume. “People can be unhappy with the result and the performance, but let’s recognise where we are.
“Many of our team are first year pros in UK and they need every once of support I can give them
“I am fully open and frank with them, and more than happy to keep them in the loop
“I don’t want disillusioned players who think this is not what they signed up for - I want players happy to he here enjoying their hockey”Fans have already drawn comparisons with the team which ended the curtailed 2019-20 campaign in last place and endured a torrid 17-game losing streak.
The buzz of the sport’s return after lockdown also raised expectations, which were not managed by the club, and a mis-fire from day one has turned the focus inwards once more.
“The memory of the last season we played is still fresh in people’s minds but this is a completely different situation,” said the coach. “I also think people expressed frustration at a whole bunch of things at the weekend.
“We have to realise where we are - we are lucky to have hockey back.
“No-one likes seeing their team lose games.
“I won’t shirk my responsibilities - we will manage the players and get them through this and, despite the results, they have been great.
“This is a learning curve for them. - we are going to get better.”