Fife Flyers 2 Braehead Clan 4
Fife Flyers had Matt Nickerson thrown out as they started the new year with a disappointing home defeat to Braehead Clan on Friday night.
Flyers struggled to impose themselves on a match that Clan controlled for long spells, particularly after the home side lost their big enforcer to a game misconduct early in the second period.
Flyers had just levelled the match at 1-1 and were beginning to find some momentum when Nickerson - albeit after some provocation - reached onto the ice from behind the team bench to land a punch on Jeff Smith.
The impact put the Clan defenceman flat on his back but loud cheers from the home fans were quickly stifled when referee Alan Craig pointed Nickerson back to the dressing room on a 5 + Game penalty, with Smith escaping with a roughing 2+2.
When asked about the incident afterwards, Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume said: “I seen what happened but I’ll reserve judgement until I see the actual video. I’m pretty sure it was a reaction to what was done to him.”
Flyers were on the wrong end of decisions throughout the game - the PIM count was 49-10 - and frustrations were evident as Danny Stewart was handed a 10 minute misconduct for abuse of the officials in the closing minutes while at least one player chose not to shake the out-stretched hand of the referee at full-time.
The game wasn’t entirely won and lost on discipline, but Flyers did not help themselves.
While Clan were organised, well disciplined and took their chances - a text-book road performance - Flyers huffed and puffed, often without a creative spark, and spent too much time in the penalty box.
Most of Flyers best performances were in defence with the penalty killers once again excelling, and captain Kyle Haines impressing on his long-awaited return from injury.
Flyers fell behind after just 1.48 as they coughed up the puck in their own zone, then left Scott Pitt completely unmarked to collect a pass, turn and pick his spot past Kevin Regan.
That moment of slack marking separated the sides until Flyers equalised 36 seconds into period two. A Niko Suoraniemi shot was saved but Bobby Chaumont fought for the rebound before backhanding home.
Nickerson was then ejected before a mix-up on a Fife line change helped Clan restore their lead.
Kyle Horne skated towards the home bench, but the door remained shut, and as Horne battered his stick against the boards in frustration, Clan broke into the space, with Neil Trimm finishing for 2-1.
Flyers were denied an instant equaliser as the goal judge rang the red light when a Jordan Fulton effort bounced back into play off the goal frame.
Ref Craig was well placed and signalled no goal, although there were suggestions that photographic evidence showed the puck had indeed crossed the line.
There was concern for Chaumont, who stayed down after a clash of heads with team mate Tommy Muir, but after gingerly returning to the bench, the forward was able to resume playing in P3.
Neither side was playing free flowing hockey, but Clan were winning the physical battle and they opened up a 3-1 lead on 47.36 as Leigh Salters sent a rocket shot into the net, although Kevin Regan looked disappointed to have been beaten at his near post from the right wing.
Flyers looked a beaten side but the hard-working Fleming threw the hosts a lifeline, forcing the puck over the line through traffic with eight minutes left.
It set up a grandstand finish but any hopes Flyers had of taking something from the game were dashed when Stewart was called for high sticks with 1.22 left.
Clan made the powerplay count with Pitt picking up his second of the night on 59.19 to complete the scoring and extend Clan’s lead at the top of the Gardiner Conference to five points.
Dutiaume added: “That’s a very difficult one to take - I know the guys were up for it.
“They took the lead from our weak defensive play, but we really settled the ship after that and tied it up quickly in the second.
“We tried to tie it up again at 2-2 but we were fighting an uphill battle with minor penalties. It’s very difficult to score when we’re short-handed.
“There were a few penalties we didn’t agree with but we didn’t lose any powerplay goals until the very end so I don’t know if discipline was the factor.
“The real key factor was giving up that early goal just through a lack of our forwards putting back pressure on their forwards skating up.
“It was a play that didn’t have to happen and I’ve said that too many times. I really have to look at that, because it just ends up costing us too many key points.
“I’m sick and tired of complaining about the same things.”