How Fife Flyers gave Tim Cranston his start in British ice hockey

Tim Cranston, Fife Flyers - import signed as cover for the injured Jindrich Kokrment (Pic: Fife Free Press)
Tim Cranston, Fife Flyers - import signed as cover for the injured Jindrich Kokrment (Pic: Fife Free Press)

He didn’t stay long with Fife Flyers, but Tim Cranston still left a lasting impression.

And his short stay in Kirkcaldy set the wheels in motion for a decade in UK hockey in which he enjoyed huge success and lit up many great match nights.

From the Fife Free Press

From the Fife Free Press

For a man who was poised to quit Europe and head home to Canada, his move to Kirkcaldy was life changing.

Flyers were on the hunt for short-term cover while Kokrment, one of their trio of world class Czechs, recovered from a broken ankle.

It was 30 years ago this month, in the winter of 1988, when they scoured the Continent looking for a player to match the stunning skillset of Vincent Lukac.

Timescales meant they couldn’t draft in a fourth Czech star, so they turned to Europe. Names in the frame included Craig Homola, recently released by Tayside Tigers; Steve Marr, former Kirkcaldy Kestrels import; and Rob Kivell, Glasgow’s high scoring forward.

Fife Flyers import Tim Cranston making his debut in UK ice hockey in 1998-89 (PIc: Fife Free Press)

Fife Flyers import Tim Cranston making his debut in UK ice hockey in 1998-89 (PIc: Fife Free Press)

But the man at the top of the list was Cranston, then a 26-year-old skates-for-hire hockey player who was deputising for an injured player in West Germany.

He’d iced for teams in Austria, Holland and Germany and was available.

He told the Fife Free Press: “I was hoping something would come up in Switzerland or Germany, but there were no openings. I was planning to go back to Canada when this move came up.”

Moving to Scotland effectively changed his life.

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There was also a link with Lukac – they’d played against each other, so Cranston knew what to expect from the outrageously talented Olympian and world champion gold medallist.

Cranston arrived in Kirkcaldy at a time when Flyers were struggling.

The arrival of the Czechs had raised the bar, crowds poured through the doors, but results were not what were expected.

The directors intervened and granted a stay of execution, deciding against any major changes. A 12-5 defeat in Durham days later saw them review that stance.

Jack Dryburgh resigned as coach, replaced by Rab Petrie, and Jim McLean stepped down as GM, to open the door to Jim Anderson to take over.

But it was Dryburgh that Fife fans had to thank for introducing them to the very player they value above all others – a guy with skill and personality who made match nights hum with excitement.

“He has looked good in training.

“I think fans will warm to his enthusiasm, and style of play,. He’s fast and a good scorer, and his link with Lukac will be well worth watching,” said Dryburgh.

As always, his assessment was spot on.

Cranston made an instant impression in a debut which saw Fife destroy Tayside Tigers 14-5.

His all-action style and the sheer force of his personality was evident as 3000 fans saw him form a line with Lukac and Ronnie Wood, who doubled as acting coach, and between them they plundered 11 goals. No surprise, this was Flyers’ most convincing performance in weeks – and it fed off Cranston’s dynamism.

Off the ice he picked up his sponsored car, and I can recall the consternation at the photo-call as he jumped on it and made to grab the keys as they flew through the air!

When Lukac headed home on a pre-agreed festive holiday, Flyers tried unsuccesfully to sign Cranston mark two – Tim’s brother, Todd, as temporary cover.

January dawned with Turbo Tim netting seven goals in a 12-2 wipeout of a Tayside team that included Rick Fera, and then an 18-5 season best smoking of Streatham Redskins – Lukac got four, Cranston a hat-trick.

He then found the net in a defeat at the hands of Ayr Raiders which saw him handed a two plus two penalty late in the game.

The call clearly irked – Cranston was disciplined for mouthing off at stripey Ed Miller in the Fife Lounge!

Kokrment’s return mid-January saw Cranston sign off with a ‘man of the match’ peformance across the Forth against Murrayfield Racers.

A capacity crowd of 3700 watched Racers defeat Flyers 9-5, with netminder Moray Hanson turning in one his legendary performances which saw him stonewall Rab Petrie’s team.

Kokrment and Lukac celebrated their reunion by both bagging stats of 3+5 in a 14-4 destruction of Peterborough, while Cranston went to to ice with Cleveland Bombers, Durham and then Sheffield.

By the time he signed off with a sting at Murrayfield a decade later, Cranston had left an indelible mark on the UK sport.

He founded the British ice Hockey Players;’ Association, represented GB and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

And it all started with those seven games in Kirkcaldy exactly 30 years ago.