Plenty to play for in final weekend as Flyers jostle for play-off position

Belfast Giants and Fife Flyers clash during Saturday nights Elite Ice Hockey League game (Pic:  William Cherry/Presseye'')
Belfast Giants and Fife Flyers clash during Saturday nights Elite Ice Hockey League game (Pic: William Cherry/Presseye'')

There are plenty loose ends still to be tied up as Fife Flyers head into the final weekend of the regular season.

Flyers are currently fourth in the Elite League with one game left to play but could still finish as high as third, or as low as seventh, in the standings depending on results.

The same goes for all clubs in the middle pack as Fife, Guildford, Nottingham, Sheffield and Belfast all jostle for the highest finish possible, with Braehead and Coventry scrapping it out for the eighth and final play-off position.

Only the top two seedings are confirmed, with league champions Cardiff and runners-up Manchester awaiting the teams who finish eighth and seventh respectively.

Claiming third place, and finishing above big budget clubs such as Nottingham, Belfast and Sheffield, would be a tremendous achievement for Flyers, and a worthy position for the hockey the Kirkcaldy side has played for the majority of the season.

However, having fought their way through a gruelling schedule, compounded by several injuries and suspensions, it remains to be seen where the chips will fall following their final game of the regular season away to Milton Keynes Lightning on Saturday.

By the end of that match, Flyers will have completed 12 games in 22 days, including a final week that has taken them to Belfast, Dundee, Nottingham and Milton Keynes, covering almost 2000 miles by land and sea.

For head coach Todd Dutiaume, it will be a case of hoping his already depleted squad comes through unscathed, and then preparing the players he has available to him for the assault on the play-offs.

“We’re playing some good hockey with a short line-up but the flip-side of that is that it takes it’s toll on the guys,” he said. “Not a lot of thought has gone into the schedule.

“There’s going to be literally nothing in it from third to seventh, and whoever we draw, we’re comfortable with all the match-ups.

“Some would be more beneficial travel-wise, and hopefully we can finish in a position that allows us to dictate when our home game is played.”

Flyers injury worries have shown little sign of easing with long term absentees Evan Bloodoff, Ian Young and Andy Iles all remaining sidelined for the narrow midweek defeats to Nottingham Panthers and Shffield Steelers.

Dutiuame confirmed that netminder Iles is hoping to return for play-offs, adding: “Andy is making progress and after a few more work outs we’ll assess whether he can play in Milton Keynes.

“He tried to come back a few weeks ago and didn’t feel comfortable at all. We need to make sure he is 100 per cent before we attempt to bring him back into the line-up.”

With three consecutive man of the match awards, the form of back-up netminder Jordan Marr could help allieviate the concerns over Iles injury.

“The spotlight is on you in that position, and there was an adjustment period for Marrsy from coming into the occasional game to stepping up to be starting netminder,” Dutiaume said.

“He’s settled into the position now and made some big saves, but it’s also important to note that the team has started playing differently in front of him the past few games.

“When you have a hard-working and disciplined team in front of you, it helps you settle into the game. Jordan will get another one or two games in before play-offs, then we’ll see where we are.”

The plight of Bloodoff and Young remains up in the air, with Dutiaume prepared to give both right up until the last moment before ruling them out of the play-offs.

“It’s just a waiting game and we’ll wait right up until next Friday if need be,” Dutiaume said.

“If we get anyone back it will be a bonus, but we’re very comfortable with the team we have. We’ve made some adjustments and we’re playing good hockey right now.”

A four-point weekend, with victories away to both Belfast and Dundee, followed by closely fought defeats to Nottingham and Sheffield restored belief in Fife’s play-off aspirations after a tough run.

“We probably suffered a little bit from the injuries we received and lost our way a bit,” Dutiaume said.

“We realigned things over the course of last week, tactically we changed a few things, and the guys just seemed to get their jump back. Work ethic is key to everything.”