Todd Dutiaume is hoping to inspire Fife Flyers to bigger and better things after being confirmed as the club’s head coach for another season.
‘Dutes’ will return for an 18th consecutive year at the Flyers - his 10th as head coach and fifth in the Elite League - after ending a disappointing 2014-15 campaign in eighth place.
The 41-year-old has vowed to learn from last season’s failings with the promise of new faces, and a strong emphasis on work ethic, among his key messages to supporters.
The Press understands that player-associate coach Danny Stewart will also return as Dutiaume’s right hand man for the 2015-16 season, although this remains unconfirmed by the club.
After some time off to recuperate following a long season, Dutiaume said that the hard work for next season starts now.
“We’ve done our end of season review, put all the pros and cons together, and come up with a model we think will work,” he told the Press.
“That’s something we have to start implementing now.
“I won’t do a lot of looking back this year - we’re going to be looking forward - but it was a very frustrating year.
“At times a lot of things that went on within the club, and around the club, had a big negative aspect to it, and it’s not something I’ve experienced before.
“One thing I had to remind myself when the season ended is that hockey is supposed to be fun. When I’m enjoying myself, that’s when you get the most out of me, and it’s the same with the players.
“It’s up to me to create a fun, competitive atmosphere where we maximise our players potential.”
Dutiaume admitted that Flyers fell short of expectations last season, and put it down to an improved Elite League, as well as his own team’s failure to produce consistent performances.
“Expectations were pretty high after the run we went on the previous year,” he said.
“I think people went away that summer, not only fans but people within the organisation, and thought we would just pick up where we left off by signing back the same guys.
“We maybe slipped past a couple of the issues from the year before, when we were in last place. We were maybe blinded to those and let them go, but when we came back in, the issues became a bit bigger.
“The league improved - a couple of the teams had incredible seasons and the bar was pushed up again.
“At times, when our team was on, incredible things happened on the ice, but what I think we were lacking at times was a big degree of work ethic.
“There wasn’t a game where we could grind out a 2-1, or a 1-0 hockey game. We relied on bowling teams over offensively with our top six guys doing whatever they wanted to do with the puck.
“We got away from what makes us successful and popular with our followers which is just that hard, hard work ethic. “
Dutiaume went as far as to suggest that the coaching staff may have been too lenient at times, and that roster changes could have been made quicker.
“I think that for part of the year I made excuses for the guys because I knew what they could do - but looking back I was possibly making excuses for talented players that weren’t always working as hard,” he said.
“I’m not tarring everybody with the same brush but when you have a few guys who aren’t putting the effort in it can grow on the team, and it then becomes what sums you up - a very talented team that can get out-worked.
“Looking forward, a big thing for us next season will be guys with leadership qualities in the dressing room as well as a work ethic in every game.
“If we have that, not only will the people who pay your salaries appreciate the team’s effort, you also give yourself a chance to win these hockey games.
“Not every game is won by having incredible nights where the puck is doing whatever you want, sometimes you have to go out and grind them out.
“If you fast forward to the play-off quarter final in Sheffield, we took the best team in the league to the wire in both games and the big difference was that we woke up and we had that desire and work ethic.
“It’s very difficult to make a guy do it. To a certain degree the coaching staff has a responsibility to inspire these guys to do it - but you can’t make them.
“At times, we’ve allowed players to work through issues for big swathes of time - and that could be to the detriment of the team.
“That’s something we just won’t let happen again.
“You’re coming in here to do a job and you’re going to need it from August right through the season.”
While confirming his intention to bring new players to the club, Dutiaume stressed that there are key players he wishes to retain from last season’s roster.
“It’s safe to say that there will definitely be new faces in the line-up, and that’s begun already,” he said.
“When you finish seventh or eighth for a couple of years running and you have a good squad you have to realise that there are improvements that can be made.
“Sometimes fresh blood and new attitudes in the changing room can bolster a team.
“We had all our year end meetings with all last year’s guys and said we’d take a month here because it was important we didn’t make any rash decisions.
“Anyone who comes back, we want them to want to be here, not because they just couldn’t refuse.
“It’s approaching the end of that month, and we’ll be following up with individuals that we feel are key to our line-up and that we’d be delighted to get back.
“There are key guys in line-up that you would have back no matter what - guys you can build a good hockey team around.”
One of the main aims for Dutiaume this season will be to challenge for the Gardiner Conference after rivals Braehead Clan cruised to the title last season.
“It’s important that we improve no matter what,” he said.
“I know that expectations will always be high in the community.
“You don’t have to go any further than my boss to know that his expectation might be the highest in the building.
“As head coach you have to be realistic and look at the league as a whole - and decide what you want to do.
“A huge target of ours has to be to make a better run at this division. We have to do better.
“In past years, we should have certainly been better contenders, and Braehead are only going to get stronger.
“We’ve traditionally done well in Challenge Cup but stalled at the quarter-final hurdle.
“Last year it was one of our poorest home performances of the year against Nottingham that really cost us, then we went down there and nearly caught them.
“We were very successful against Nottingham and it should have been a great draw for us. It kind of summed up the season.
“So I think we’ve got to look to advance a round or two in the Challenge Cup, because once you get into the latter stages, if you’re peaking at that time, anything can happen.
“It’s a competition anyone can win once they get into knock-out stages.
“If we get the right mix between talent and hard work, our league position will take care of itself.”
Dutiaume also insisted that Flyers’ budget is not a hindrance to the team’s Elite League aspirations.
“Our players are very well paid,” he insisted.
“It’s hard to say what other club’s budgets are because there’s no official report on a team’s wages.
“You hear that someone is earning an incredible sum, when really he’s not, or a team is under-estiminating their budget when really they’re spending double because they don’t want to say.
“I don’t think budget is much of an issue in Fife.
“Can we afford a guy with NHL experience any more? I think those days are gone.
“A big thing is that Europe is a lot less difficult to get into than it was in the old days and there are some big money offers.
“We put out good competitive offers to the players we want but every once in a while someone is out of our price range.
“It’s not us competing with Braehead or Dundee, it’s someone getting way more money in Italy or Austria.”