Is Nickerson’s reputation harming him?

Todd Dutiaume, head coach Fife Flyers
Todd Dutiaume, head coach Fife Flyers

Fife Flyers coach Todd Dutiaume questioned whether the punishment fitted the crime - and if Matt Nickerson’s rep was counting against him.

In a detailed interview with the Press, he also criticised Braehead Clan’s PR war of words and the conduct of Chris Frank - the player involved in the flashpoint with Nickerson - and insisted talk of a grudge between the teams was misguided.

On the suspension, Dutiaume said: “I don’t think 12 games reflects the crime because in every one of Matt’s suspensions there has never been a resulting injury.

“The rules state that you don’t have to injure a player to get a match penalty, but we’ve had players hurt for several weeks, and the opposing player was back in half, or a third of the time.”

Dutiaume suggested that Nickerson’s reputation has counted against him, despite cleaning up his act since picking up a four-game ban for an attack on a Cardiff Devils player on his Flyers debut in September.

“Matt caused a bit of controversy in his first game over here and that has really put a target on his back,” Dutiaume said.

“He had an excessive roughness penalty in October which resulted in a one game ban, but since then his play has been pretty exemplary.

“We’ve had numerous talks with Matt and told him his number one priority is to be on the ice and playing hockey, because he’s a good player. I think people have recognised the efforts he has put in on the ice in the last month or so.

“Matt’s actions on Saturday were in defence of our goaltender getting cross-checked in the face - he was defending a team mate.

“If Nickerson’s not going to do it, who is? For years and years Flyers were pushed around and we had guys get hurt. Now our guys feel comfortable that they won’t get taken advantage of.

“In saying that we’re now missing an import for 12 games, and that’s something that hurts this club.

“We need all our players heatlhy and on the ice and to miss a guy for over a month in such an important stretch really hurts us.”

Dutiaume is also unhappy with what he regards as an over-the-top reaction from Braehead to the incident.

“I don’t want to get into a war of words, but Chris Frank comes with his own target on his back,” Dutiaume said.

“He plays the game tough, gets under guys skin and him and Matt have clashed all season. I don’t think he’s the innocent victim in this, and I also don’t think he was injured from the incident.

“Let me make it clear, I would never want to see Chris Frank injured or any other player for that matter.

“We would never send out a player to intentionally injure another player - it’s not our style of game.”

The incident has created a tension between the clubs ahead of this Saturday’s clash at Braehead Ice Arena, face-off 7.00 p.m.

A statement on Braehead’s official website promised ‘incident’, ‘revenge’ and ‘retribution’.

“That’s a dangerous thing to say,” Dutiaume said.

“If one of my players happens to get injured in the game I have a definite case for premeditation.

“Saturday’s incident was between two players - there was never anyone else involved - and Matt is now being severely punished for what happened.

“I don’t know if they are trying to put a PR spin it, or if they have other plans, but it’s a very dangerous game to play. I don’t think it’s very respectful to the players to make these threats.”

Flyers welcome Hull Stingrays to Fife Ice Arena on Sunday, face-off 6.30 p.m, and Dutiaume will be looking for his side to continue their good run after picking up seven points from the last eight.

“The guys have performed exceptionally well and we’re looking to keep that going,” he said.

“Matt is a big miss because he logs a lot of minutes but we’ve been short of guys before.

“We just have to find a way to keep motivated and keep going.”