Fife Flyers will face their toughest test of the season to date when they take on Belfast Giants in a Challenge Cup double-header this weekend.
That’s according to head coach Todd Dutiaume who wants his team to rise to the challenge against last season’s Elite League champions, with a ferry trip to the Northern Irish capital on Saturday followed by the return match at Fife Ice Arena on Sunday.
“From what we’ve seen on tape, Belfast are an incredibly deep, well-rounded, physical and hard-working side,” Dutes said. “I imagine that will be our toughest challenge to date as a group, and we want to respond well to it.”
With a win and a defeat each, Flyers and Belfast both have two points after two games in Challenge Cup Group B.
The weekend results could go a long way towards claiming a top three finish, and a quarter-final place.
The Kirkcaldy side will need to find a way past former netminder Shane Owen, who moved to Belfast in the summer after an impressive season between the pipes in Fife.
“We have a tremendous amount of respect not only for Shane but all our former players,” Dutiaume said.
“He was recruited by an opposition team for a reason, and he seems to have settled in well there.
“I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to shake hands with him after the game, but up until that point it has to be business as usual.
“Instead of focusing on who we know or don’t know, we have to be prepared to go into battle with these guys and grind out two crucial wins in the Challenge Cup.”
While the cup takes focus this weekend, Flyers have enjoyed a positive start to their league campaign, sitting top of the standings despite a 4-2 defeat in Guildford on Sunday that saw the team endure a 24-hour round bus trip.
Depsite their early success, Dutiaume believes there is still room for improvement.
“We’ve had a great start to the season, but we’d still like to be better at retrieving the puck, defensively, in all three areas of the ice,” he explained. “That’s a work in progress.
“For instance, in the Nottingham game, all six players played a significant part in not only retaining possession but also getting it back when there was a turnover.
“It’s a commitment to stick with the plan, and work hard in all aspects of the game.
“If the puck goes in people are fast to blame the goaltender or defencemen, but these are the last lines of defence.
“You need all guys on the ice, at all times, buying into playing on both sides of the puck and this is going to be key to our success.
“Sitting top of the standings is a good place to be, but if as a group we rest on that then we’re all not doing our jobs.
“We have to fight for the right to stay up around top of the table, and it takes a commitment every night.”
Dutiaume also stressed the importance of keeping five men on the ice after taking nine minor penalties in Guildford on Sunday.
“We ran into early penalty trouble and that’s a big momentum swinger,” he said.
“We need to stay out of the box consistently because when you’re on the back foot killing for big portions at the start of a hockey game, regardless if it’s evened up later, you can lose that momentum quickly and it’s hard to gain it back.
“All teams will talk about having a great start and making sure they take early steps to get a psychological and physical advantage.”
Dutiaume is also hoping his team can become more potent on the powerplay, adding: “Our powerplay is successful when we stick with it and stay patient, rather than trying to force passes because a team is killing great against us, and we end up getting ourselves isolated.
“We have an incredibly offensive bunch so the powerplay is not concerning, we just have to get comfortable with the system and make sure we’re not standing around.”