Chase Schaber make his long-awaited return to Fife Flyers’ line-up tonight (Wednesday) – and he will be joined by power forward Evan Bloodoff.
The duo will ice in the opening game of 2019 against MK Lightning after spells on the sideline through injury.
Bloodoff missed the entire December programme, while Schaber has been out since October – and his return could be the key to kick-starting the team’s ambitions as the second half of the season gets underway.
Schaber’s drive and infectious personality sat at the very heart of the team, and his absence has been keenly felt since he limped out of the game against Nottingham Panthers at the start of October.
Todd Dutiaume, head coach, hailed him as “one of the leaders on this teaam” and will be looking to him to lead Flyers’ challenge over the next four months.
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The team emerged from the Christmas programme in fourth place but slightly detached from the leading pack after defeats in Dundee and Braehead.
Flyers still remain ahead of the chasing pack with games in hand, but just four points separate them from Dundee Stars in the eighth and final play-off spot – Manchester Storm, in ninth, are just two points further back.
It means there is little margin for error in a league where almost every team has hit a bump in the road this far – but it’s what happens after Christmas which determines who takes the honours, and who gets to the play-off finals weekend in April.
Flyers remain very much in the mix, although some performances have failed to impress the home fans.
The return of Schaber is as good as a new signing – a player who can spark a reaction on the ice pad.
The visit of MK Lightning is a game the team must win.
The English side are bottom of the table, seven points adrift, but the head to heads between the teams have delivered a win apiece so far.
There should be a big crowd at Fife Ice Arena as the fans look for a winning start to 2019 – the turn out for the ‘Twixmas’ game against Dundee Stars was excellent, with the fans creating a smashing atmosphere.
The return of Schaber and Bloodoff will certainly be welcomed in the stands – and in the dressing-room.
Dutiaume said: ““Getting these guys back in to the team is a huge boost for us.
“Chase and Evan are a massive part of our line-up, big characters on the ice and in the dressing room, so it is great to be able to get them back on the ice.
“Chase is one of the leaders on this team and he has been frustrated not being able to get on the ice with his teammates, but now his return will not just be a big boost for his teammates, but also for our fans ahead of Wednesday’s game against MK Lightning.
“Everyone knows how dangerous Bloods can be on the ice, so again is a huge boost to get him back in the line-up moving into this part of the season.”
Carlo Finucci also returns to the roster after serving a two-match suspension.
The match also marks forward Bari McKenzie’s 500th EIHL game, appropriately, against the club which have him his big break.
Bari iced with Milton Keynes in 2003-04, and the Dumfries-born skater has since gone on to play with all the senior teams in Scotland, joining Flyers for the 2018-19 campaign.
The game faces off at 6.00 pm