Kestrels coach says future is bright for local talent

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WITH Fife Flyers season over it was the turn of the town’s second senior ice hockey team to take centre stage at the weekend.

Kirkcaldy Kestrels reached the Scottish National League play-offs at Fife Ice Arena after seeing off North Ayrshire Wild in a two-legged quarter-final.

Kestrels celebrate scoring against Tigers

Kestrels celebrate scoring against Tigers

Saturday’s semi-final saw them up against league runners-up Dundee Tigers, but a closely fought match ended in a 3-2 defeat for the hosts.

Tigers went on to beat Paisley Pirates in Sunday’s final, while Kestrels defeated Edinburgh Capitals SNL 5-3 in the third place tie.

Kestrels are coached by former pro player David Smith, who starred for Fife Flyers, Guildford Flames and Dundee Stars in the old British National League.

He was disappointed not to win the weekend playoffs, but is pleased with the progress the team has made since he took over in December.

He told the Press: “I couldn’t have asked for any more from the players.

“The effort was there - and we out-shot Tigers in the semi-final - but we’re still trying to get the right balance.

“I’ve only been here since Christmas and the aim is to run the Kestrels like an Elite League club. There’s a lot of great talent coming through and we need to nurture it.”

The current Kestrels team is a mix of promising youngsters - the likes of Josh Leslie and Matthew Farmer have trained with the Flyers - and experienced former pros such as Daryl Venters and Chad Reekie.

In his younger days, Smith used Kestrels as a springboard towards a career at the top level, and he hopes his young stars can do the same.

“I was 14 when I first went to the Kestrels, and at that time they had three imports,” he said.

“It got me playing with older boys at a higher level, which is the whole aim of junior development.

“When I stepped up to train with the Flyers it was the ‘wow’ factor.

“You got to see what the Canadians were all about and then you go back and tell your pals. Before you knew it everyone was doing the same exercises.”

Smith was part of a golden generation in the 1980s that saw Kirkcaldy Ice Hockey Club produce top British stars such John Haig, Andy Samuel and the King brothers.

The current crop of home-grown Brits, the likes of Thomas Muir, Jamie Wilson and Stephen Gunn, made their breakthrough just as pro hockey disappeared off the map in Kirkcaldy following the break-up of the BNL.

However, they are now plying their trade in the Elite League with the Flyers, and improving all the time.

Smith insists there are exciting young prospects capable of following in their footsteps.

“Over the next few years you’ll notice a huge difference,” he said.

“Down the age groups kids are training up to four times a week - they’ve never had that before.

“And we’re bringing under 18s and under 20s up to the Kestrels to bring them closer to a 40-game season.

“We’ve also got guys like Steven King and Steven Lynch helping out with the coaching, so it can only go the right way.

“It has to start from the top though, and that means Flyers giving these boys a chance. Flyers can’t win the Elite League with 10 imports unless they pay top dollar - which won’t happen.

“They need to have the best British players to have a chance, and there’s a lot of talent coming through. The future’s looking good.”