2014: Matt Nickerson’s gladiatorial fight which electrified Fife Flyers’ fans
It’s one of the defining moments of ice hockey in Fife this decade - a moment which electrified a rink packed with fans, and took an incredible rivalry to new heights.
Matt Nickerson’s fight with Braehead Clan’s Kevin Bergin is seared in the memory by the image of the aftermath.
Fife Flyers’ fearsome enforcer holds his beaten opponent by the scruff of the neck, while raising his other arm in victory.
Standing in the middle of the ice pad, surrounded by around 2700 fans, he looked like a gladiator.
It ‘s hard to believe it happened as long ago as season 2013-14.
Nickerson was in his EIHL season, Bergin had previously iced with Nottingham from 2008-10. By the time they danced, they’d encountered a campaign of full-blooded derbies which drew full houses to Fife and Renfrew.
That fight will always be remembered for the way it ended.
It started in the corner with Nickerson slamming punches to Bergin’s body and head before they slid on to the plexi while the officials looked for an opening to split them up.
None came as they remained tied up and moved into the middle of the zone where Bergin managed to tear Nickerson’s helmet off.
The response was devastating - one punch to the head and he dropped.
Nickerson’s instant response was to stand with his arm raised, while he held on to Bergin’s collar after seeing his opponent buckle. Enforcing at its most devastating.
As always, Nickerson left the ice applauding the courage of his combatant.
The fight sapped all energy from Clan’s bench, and ignited Flyers on and off the ice.
Todd Dutiaume once recalled that the big man needed the fight.
He’d been through the ringer with the EIHL’s disciplinary process, and hung out to dry more than once.
Post-game, Nickerson squeezed into Dutiaume’s tiny office and bounced around saying “it shoulda been Frankie, it shoulda been Frankie.”
Frankie was Chris Frank - his nemesis.
Two uncompromising warriors who never backed down and who, together, stoked the rivalry which took Flyers-Clan games to a different level of intensity.
Of course there was more to their games than simply dropping the gloves, but they yielded to no-one when the opportunity arose to get that edge.
Nickerson’s presence on the ice certainly made Fife a different team - be in no doubt some opposition players were genuinely scared of him - but, there was much more to his game than fighting.
He was also a character who made hockey exciting.
Fans surround him within seconds of emerging from the dressing room post-game - on some nights where supporters got to skate with the players he had to sign so many autographs and pose for so many photos he never made it back on to the ice.
Watch the video of his fight with Bergin, and listen to the soundtrack. Fear the beard.
Fans adopted it and some even copied his distinctive facial hair.
But it was more than just a slogan. The beard was part of his armour.
At the end of the season he shaved it off, and raised a remarkable £5000 for CHAS.
Minus his beard he looked a different person; one much, much softer than the fearsome player who took enforcing to an altogether new level.