Fife Flyers’ conference title hopes will be put on the line over the next seven weeks.
The club is set to embark on a run of 14 straight games from this weekend through until mid-January, and they hold the key their aspirations to bring some silverware to Kirkcaldy.
They currently sit second bottom of the conference, but have played fewer games than the other four teams – almost half as many as Braehead who have 14 points from 11 games.
Flyers begin with a home game against Manchester Storm on Saturday and a trip over the Forth to face Edinburgh Capitals on Sunday – and they’re looking for a clean sweep of the points.
They’re sweating over the fitness of Ryan Dingle who missed the weekend’s gutsy overtime win against Belfast Giants.
Dingle, so often the engine room of the team, is rated 50-50, and Todd Dutiaume, head coach, won’t risk him.
Key forward Justin Fox is looking good to return this weekend.
‘‘We want to protect Ryan,’’ said Dutiaume. ‘‘He is vital to our team and we don’t want to risk losing him for a longer period of time.
‘‘Foxy skated this week with the aim of getting into the line-up.’’
Flyers blew Manchester Storm to bits on their last visit to Kirkcaldy, but they anticipate a much closer game.
A win would set them up for the short journey across the Forth to face Edinburgh where wins can never be taken for granted.
across the Forth to face Edinburgh where wins can never be taken for granted.
A winning start to the run of conference games is key to the club’s silverware hopes.
Dutiaume expects the race to be as tight as ever – and stay wide open until well into 2017.
“It’ll probably go to the wire again,” he said. “This isn’t a conference with just two strong teams – every team is capable of winning games.”
With Dingle a probable non-starter, Dutiaume will again look to his key players to lead the line .
They ground out a huge 3-2 overtime win against Belfast, despite icing without three key players.
“The fact it was one-game weekend certainly helped – we emptied the tanks against Belfast.
“But it was great to see guys really dig in. Chase Schaber has really, really, stepped up in recent weeks, and we are seeing guys like Brendan Brooks and Sebastien Thinel stepping up.
“That made the win so big for us. We went in with a huge part of our team missing, other players were ill, but the guys gave it everything.’’
Flyers will take another big travelling support to Edinburgh on Sunday for a derby that has proved to be a tricky fixture in recent seasons.
Caps have turned Fife over in the past, and their ability to come back from seemingly lost positions has pushed some games to the wire – on Sunday Edinburgh were 4-1 down against Belfast only to find two quick goals and set up a late flurry before the Irish side could seal the game.
“People really under-estimate Edinburgh,” said Dutiaume. “They think ‘strugglers’ and ‘bottom of the table’ – the reality is they are a good team that can be dangerous offensively.
“You also have to be prepared to play in Edinburgh. The rink is cold, the room is a small box. If you aren’t prepared to handle that then you can be punished on the ice.”