Groundhog Day for Fife Flyers

James Isaacs' form was one of the few highlights last season for Fife FlyersJames Isaacs' form was one of the few highlights last season for Fife Flyers
James Isaacs' form was one of the few highlights last season for Fife Flyers | (C)Spudnando Pics
It was probably a blessing in disguise for Fife Flyers when the season ended prematurely.

They were clinging by their fingernails to the play-offs, and that grip was being loosened one digit at a time. It was only a matter of time before they fell into the abyss.

Season 2019-20’s highlights were, in all honesty in limited supply.

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Crowds tumbled, the team toiled, and there was a sense of deep frustration in the stands as the club fumbled in the dark when it came to communication, PR and marketing.

It will be remembered for a club record equalling 14-game losing streak – a long, grim, run from December 22 to February 2 which pretty much undermined a campaign best summed up as one step forward, two steps back.

Too many rays of light were dimmed completely by what felt like perpetual individual errors – howlers which led to game-changing goals and defeats – and performances where the fans could sense the trepidation within the team, and that, in turn, saw players disappear to avoid the harsh glare of criticism.

If the opening goal went their way and momentum built, they were more than a match for the big guns, but the fragility was all too evident when they were put under pressure.

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A harrowing 10-3 demolition at the hands of Sheffield Steelers left some scars.

The flip side? Smashing wins over Cardiff and Belfast, and a thrilling push back in Wales where fans saw glimpses of the potential within the team – but not enough to keep them rinkside in huge numbers every weekend. For a gate-based club that was catastrophic.

Perhaps the turning point came when the club decided against changes.

It was evident very early in the campaign that the team needed to be strengthened.

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By October, one month into the season, there was talk of up to three changes. None were made.

The roster had to absorb the departure of Chad Smith who, tired of riding the pine, signed for Glasgow Clan – a loss which got under the skin of fans who want to see local players skating for the team – and the extended injury absence of defenceman Sam Jones, arguably one of the brightest lights in a dark season.

Flyers were the only EIHL team to stick with its original roster no matter how the losses piled up and the performances stalled. At times, it felt like Groundhog Day.

“What’s the definition of insanity?” Todd Dutiaume asked rhetorically as we stood outside Manchester Storm’s rink one cold January evening after another must-win game had been scorched by another soul-destroying error of judgement.

A fleeting brain freeze with huge consequences.

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With no approval to recruit – and Flyers certainly missed out on several players who went elsewhere within the EIHL – the team could only lace up and go again, often, it felt like more in hope than expectation.

Carlo Finucci did everything, and more, to spur them on, while Mike Cazzola’s commitment and workrate set the bar for the rest to follow.

Not all did.

Adam Morrison earned his spurs between the pipes while James Isaacs had his best season in a Fife shirt, and Bari McKenzie and Jordan Buesa left it all on the ice when given the opportunity – the disagreement between fans and coaches over the usage of British players remains unresolved – but there were passengers. Too many on too many nights for the team to fully catch fire.

The team lost Evan Bloodoff and Brett Bulmer during the summer. Neither were adequately replaced - Bloods the hard nosed guy front of net, and Bulmer, when he finally switched to play-off mode after coasting for the first half of the season, and turned into a beast of a skater who grabbed games by the scruff of the neck and made things happen.

Fourteen wins in 49 starts says it all.

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Post-pandemic, Flyers have to return with a team that connects with its fanbase and lights up the rink. Do that and those numbers will quickly change.

While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you. In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you - wherever possible and providing it is safe for you to do so - to also please purchase a copy of our newspapers; the Fife Free Press, Fife Herald, St Andrews Citizen, East Fife Mail and Glenrothes Gazette.

Inevitably falling advertising revenues will start to have an impact on local newspapers and the way we continue to work during this period of uncertainty.

The support of our readers has never been more important as we try to make sure that we keep you connected with your community during this time. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. We need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

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Thank you

Allan Crow, Editor, Fife Free Press

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