Kirkcaldy Kestrels have emerged from a turbulent summer with fresh hope for the future after convincing three former Fife Flyers to join them in the Scottish National League.
The arrival of Elite League veterans Tommy Muir, Chris Wands and Jamie Wilson has been a godsend for a club that lost seven players over the close season.
The lure of free hockey - Kestrels players pay weekly fees to help with ice costs - as well as paid expenses elsewhere in the SNL has proved difficult to contend with.
But the three big additions – Muir and Wilson coming out of retirement with Wands stepping directly from playing in the EIHL last season – have brought a wave of positivity back to the club.
Kestrels head coach Stevie Wishart believes there is plenty to look forward to ahead of this Sunday’s home opener against Solway Sharks at Fife Ice Arena.
“It’s been a difficult summer and we were looking pretty light on numbers,” he said.
“We lost five of our starting D and we were looking at having to convert forwards into D-men.
“But then we got talking to the ex-Flyers guys and they’ve decided they want to come in and help us, which is great for the club.
“We thought it would be a tough season, but the guys we’ve brought in are certainly going to turn that around and make us competitive.
“Since they came in there’s a buzz about the dressing room and a wee step in training. Going forward this is a real positive for us.”
Kestrels assistant coach, Daryl Venters, a Flyers veteran himself with over 250 games in the BNL, hopes the big-name arrivals can help the club grow on and off the ice.
“It has been a really tough summer and it would have been easy to throw the towel in, but this allows us to refocus on having a competitive team,” he said.
“The SNL landscape has completely changed – there’s free hockey and there’s people getting paid expenses, accommodation, imports coming in – which is all great.
“We’ve been caught behind the eight-ball, but there are positive conversations taking place within the club and a recognition that there needs to be some changes.
“We need to try to get extra funding through sponsorship so we can get to free hockey, try to attract players back, and negotiate with young players coming through.
“We need to stop losing guys to SNL teams. We’re happy to lose them to the EIHL or down south when they’re going up a level, otherwise it’s just a sideways step.”
While the club is targeting SNL silverware, the ultimate aim for the Kestrels is to help young players make the transition from junior hockey into the professional game.
“For us it’s purely about player development and giving the young ones a platform if they’re able and willing,” head coach Wishart added.
“We want to have a team where young guys can come in and develop and try to bridge the gap to the Flyers.
“We know it’s a big gap but we want to do the best we can to push them on and we’ll be looking to work closer with the Flyers this year.
“Todd (Dutiaume) is wanting us to come in and speak to him about systems and working closer together. We’re looking forward to that.
“We’ve now got Scott Jamieson on a two-way and he’ll be training full-time with the Flyers and once a week with us. He’ll play when Flyers need him but we’ll have him for most of our games.
“He’ll bring what he’s learning from them into our dressing room, and hopefully he’s a positive influence on the other youngsters we’ve got, like Finlay King, Steven’s kid, who has the potential to be the next one called up to the Flyers.”
Kestrels chairman Ian Keddie hopes the arrival of the ex-Flyers, as well as some prime Saturday night slots this season as Flyers move increasingly towards Sunday hockey, will drive more spectators to SNL games.
He said: “It’s been a really tough summer and concerning at some points with what was happening.
“But the guys have managed to pull it together and it’s really encouraging that the three ex-Flyers have come on board.
“They’ve all come through the junior development, made it to the Kestrels, then Flyers, and it’s great they’ve got that willingness to come back and support the youth of the club.
“Having a competitive Kestrels team is really important, and Steven and Daryl have done a great job bringing a team together.
“We’re really looking forward to the season ahead and hoping we are a big draw when Flyers aren’t in town, and people will want to watch the Kestrels to get their hockey fix.
“It’s only £7 to come and watch, which is great value for competitive and exciting hockey.”
Kestrels home opener takes place this Sunday, 6.15 p.m face-off, against a Solway side coached by Kirkcaldy-born Martin Grubb and featuring former Flyers Kyle Horne and Iain Bowie.