1992: Promotion play-off which changed the future of Fife Flyers and Ayr Raiders

The 30th anniversary of Fife Flyers promotion season is looming large on the horizon.

Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 8:09 pm
Richard Laplante scores against Ayr Raiders in the winner-takes all promotion play-off at the Summit Centre, Glasgow

Season 1991-92 saw the team drop into the lower league for the first time ever - and a journey which culminated with one of the most remarkable do-or-die matches in their 83-year history.

Relegation had been a painful, shambolic affair.

Out went games against Durham Wasps and Murrayfield Racers - matches which defined the sport’s Heineken era - and in came road trips to places such as Lee Valley, Romford, Telford and Slough.

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Rink directors gave Flyers just one year to get out of Division One, and it was up to the players, and coach Brian Kanewischer to deliver.

They found themselves in a great title trace with Slough Jets, and they pipped them on goal difference, underlining the importance of the prolific partnership of Frank Morris and Richard Laplante.

Morris had just logged a 210-point season, while Laplante, who didn’t miss a single game, had 178 points.

They’d clinched the title in the down at heel surrounds of Lee Valley on a Sunday night, with defenceman Kel Land doing one of his famous moonwalks after netting a fine slapshot in an 11-5 win.

The play-offs put the same group as Ayr Raiders, a nomadic hockey club staring at relegation and, even extinction if they lost.

The teams were drawn along with Telford Tigers - the only Division One team to win a hockey match in Kirkcaldy - and outsiders, Romford Raiders. Only one team could go up.

The play-offs started in controversy as Ayr were allowed to ice Tommy Plommer, their Junior B category import, as a reclassified Brit.

Fife protested to the BIHA over the eleventh hour change of status which let him compete against the Division One teams. Plommer, a feisty, talented player, netted twice but Flyers won a physically tough game 8-5.

The wheels came off on the road as Telford racked up a 13-10 victory over Fife in Shropshire.

Chuck Taylor’s tough team took the opening period 6-1, and 12 of their 13 goals came against Fife’s import line.

Even stats of 5+1 for Morris and 2+5 for Laplante couldn’t rescue the situation as Kanewischer ripped up his lines.

Fife returned home with a 12-6 win over Romford in which young netminder Colin Downie saved a penalty shot, and then gained revenge with a 7-6 victory over Tigers in the return game.

The tone was set from the face off as Cal Brown steamrollered his way through Telford’s centreman at the opening face-off - he’d had a ‘mare down south - but it still went to the wire before Bobby Haig’s dramatic last-gasp winner.

Going into the final weekend, Flyers were two points ahead, and a 5-3 win over Romford took them to the Summit Centre, Glasgow - Ayr’s temporary home.

The rink was packed. Dozens of fans were locked out as every vantage point was seized for this momentous game.

Raiders needed to win by three clear goals to clinch the sole promotion spot, and Fife were coasting until the pressure was cranked up in the most dramatic period of hockey the club has ever experienced.

Jim Lynch, Raiders former coach and an ex-Fife import, had promised “a barnstorming finish” but no-one expected what was to follow.

With the clock winding down, Gordon Latto delivered a rink length rush and a stunning finish to beat netminder Bernie McCrone one on one.

With seven minutes left to play, Flyers were 6-4 up. Then came the blitz.

Four shots, four goals and Ayr were 8-6 up.

The entire future of their hockey club rested on one more shot finding its way past Downie in the Fife net.

Flyers’ immediate future rested on willing the clock to 0:00 without further damage to get them out of Division One at the first attempt.

Ayr’s quarter of goals came inside three harrowing minutes as Terry MacLean, and then Mark Dennehy rang the red light.

With a shoot on sight policy - they fired from literally anywhere in the ice pad - Russ Parent, a future Fife defenceman, drilled home the third to set up the most tense finale imaginable.

Flyers players threw themselves in front of pucks to protect their goalie as Ayr gave it everything.

Down 8-6, Kanewischer called a time out and Fife went into the final face off knowing all they had to do was win it and fire the puck down the pad as far from their goal as possible - and hope Ayr simply ran out of time to regroup.

The atmosphere was beyond electric. Any oxygen in the rink was sucked out as everyone honed in on Fife’s goal and the clock seemed to take an eternity to tick down.

The sound of the buzzer saw Kanewischer vault over the barrier and explode with relief as his team could finally celebrate..

They returned to the Abbey Hotel in Kirkcaldy where, once again, so many folk turned up some were left outside.

Amid the noise, the songs and the champagne he sat with a scarf wrapped around his head and admitted, that was one heck of a way to win.

“Gordon’s goal should have killed it” he said, “I was pleased we won, particularly for Colin Downie. He will never face pressure like that again.”

Defeat meant the end of the road for Raiders. Victory meant promotion for Flyers, but with one twist.

Two weeks later, Kanewischer was replaced by Jim Lynch, the man who delivered that breathless, incredible barnstorming finish which changed the course of history for two hockey clubs.

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