Silence and signings - the story of Fife Flyers' summer
Ice hockey is a year round business. While the players may hit the golf course in summer, off the ice it never stops.
And for a club like Fife Flyers, with very limited resources, that presents a real challenge.
The model it launched with in the mid 1990s after Tom Muir, Jack Wishart and former director John Waring took over from the ice rink has pretty much remained intact over 20 years later - but the sport has changed beyond recognition in that time.
A near six-week drought on the news front sparked huge debate on social media, and even long-standing fans who know the sport, and their club, inside out were asking ‘‘should we be concerned?’’
This week the club replied, providing an update on the work which has been going on behind the ice rink’s closed doors.
Todd Dutiaume, head coach, is the first to admit, hockey has changed since he first came to the UK to play in in Swindon in the mid 1990s.
‘‘I understand that people want news daily, and want their fix every day. Believe me we’re working on it,” he said.
“The most important thing to know is nobody has shut off since the end of the season.
‘‘We’re working hard to put together a great product on the ice in September. If you don’t hear by April 1, I apologise, but you’re going to have a great team to watch this year.’’
That last comment was his - and effectively the club’s response - to the fans seeking signing news as they watch their EIHL rivals unveiling new players and the return of favourite players on a daily basis.
There ARE players signed but the cap remains on the publicity until the directors decide otherwise.
In the interim, Dutiaume’s work goes on - and he’s happy with how it has gone so far.
‘‘The directors are committed and haven’t held me back on any player I’ve gone after,’’ he said.
‘‘We have some players signed that haven’t been announced, we’ve lost some players from last year, and lost some in negotiations. That’s the business we’re in - but I’m thrilled with where we’re sitting at as far as the way the team looks right now.
‘‘We’ve got some key guys in key positions. I’ll look to fill around that and build this squad up. We’re in a good spot.’’
While fans fret over the lack of communication - and PR is an issue key people at the club are fully aware of but don’t have the resource to address - Dutiaume’s ‘to do’ list revolves around building a team to compete from the big face-off.
He needs to find replacements for Nico Sacchetti and Kyle Haines, officially confirmed as as non-returnees, and he needs an assistant coach to replace Danny Stewart, now at Coventry.
And he also has to deliver a team that meets - if not exceeds - the fans’ expectations after last season’s march to the play-off finals weekend.
‘‘I would have taken Nico and Kyle back in a heartbeat,’’ he said. ‘‘From the moment Hainsey walked into the door he was exceptional - a player who excited a lot of people.
‘‘Nico said that if hockey was going to continue for him, and if coming back to UK was an option, then Flyers would be at top of his list.
‘‘I appreciated his honesty but real life calls for a lot of these players.
‘‘A lot of guys come over with a game plan to see Europe for a couple of years then get a job back home or use it to travel and experience different cultures.
‘‘We’ll take players any way we can get them, but that also results in a higher turnover than maybe in my playing day.
‘‘But it looks like there’s a good chance that we’ll see a couple more faces from last season back in a Flyers uniform - that’s ongoing right now.
‘‘And for every player we lose, we want to make an upgrade. When you start going after more high profile guys you end up competing not only with clubs in this league, but in Europe and North America and things can get prolonged and dragged out.
‘‘But it’s nice to be able to say that I’ve got the backing from the directors to be involved in these negotiations to bring top quality players to Fife.
‘‘We’ve had some success and we’ve had some disappointments - but that’s what recruitment is all about. It’s a full-time job in itself and we’ve been incredibly busy behind the scenes.’’
One key post to be filled on and off the ice is that of an assistant coach. Dutiaume is well aware of the need to have a strong sounding board throughout the season.
‘‘It’s an incredibly busy job now. No longer do you throw practice together, come to the rink and go play a game. So much now goes on behind scenes.
‘‘You do need help and the search continues for an assistant coach.
‘‘It has to be someone who compliments me, who can be strong in areas that I want to strengthen, and have a definite role map.
“It’s important I have somebody to bounce things off, but also someone who will tell me not what I want to hear, but what I need to hear.’’
The Dutiaume-Stewart partnership endured from day one of Fife Flyers’ arrival in the EIHL five seasons ago, but they will now go head to head when Stewy returns to Fife with his new club, Coventry Blaze.
Whoever steps in to replace him will have to adapt to the Fife way of working, and also understand that hockey is just part of the rink’s busy schedule - training times have been rejigged to the benefit of the team - and Flyers don’t have the same off-ice resources as the bulk of their EIHL rivals.
But it remains a great place - and great town - to play hockey.
‘‘Making sure everyone is on same page, and everyone is here for the right reasons is incredibly time consuming,’’ he said.
‘‘It consumes your entire days and weeks, and feels like it takes over your life.
‘‘But, if you do due diligence over the summer it pays off come September when the team steps on the ice.
‘‘We’ve honed our skills over the last five years. Instead of being a new franchise looking to put a good team together, we can go to players now and say we’ve made the play-off finals in two of last three years, and stumbled at the semis - and we need to push our team on to win the semi final and find ourselves in the final where anything can happen.
‘‘We’ve improved our position every year in the league, and we lost out on a tiebreaker for the the conference title.
‘‘We need a team that’s not going to falter in October, November or any other month - and bring the division title home.”
>> Watch the full interview with Todd Dutiaume online at Fife Flyers