Seven years in the making: Conference win is relief for Dutiaume after near misses

Fife Flyers, Gardiner Conference winners 2017-18  - Todd Dutiaume and Jeff Hurtchins (Pic: Steve Gunn)
Fife Flyers, Gardiner Conference winners 2017-18 - Todd Dutiaume and Jeff Hurtchins (Pic: Steve Gunn)

After seven years of close calls and near misses, Todd Dutiaume can finally say he brought an Elite League trophy to Fife Flyers.

After coming within a whisker of the Gardiner Conference title in previous years – finishing runners-up on three occasions and missing out on a tiebreaker in 2016 – the 44-year-old was full of mixed emotions as he reflected on the achievement at full-time on Sunday, with a well-earned beer in hand.

“There’s a little bit of relief mixed in it, but I’m really, really happy,” he told the Press. “We’ve believed in a process that we’ve put together for a long time.

“We’ve talked over the years about what we’re trying to accomplish, and we’ve been so close a number of times, and it hasn’t worked out for a variety of reasons.

“Tonight, it looked like it didn’t want to happen.

“We were in firm control, but this was a good learning point for us because we’re going to be involved in tight, important games, and as a team we’ve got to grow and be able to absorb frantic moments.

“When we play our game, we’re fine, when we try to go into a defensive shell or lay off to protect leads, things don’t work out very well for us. We’ve been guilty of that a couple of time this year.

“That aside, they won a championship tonight, and it’s something a Fife team hasn’t done before in the Elite League era.

“Right from early on we knew we had a special group to work with and they are reaping the rewards of their hard work up until this point.

“We’ve still got a month and a half to go, and there’s a lot of hockey to be played, and still another trophy up for grabs, but right now I’m going to let them enjoy this feeling, and so they should.”

Flyers would have had four more chances to seal the conference had they failed to get over the line on Sunday, but they desperately wanted to finish the job on in front of the 1000-strong travelling fans while completing a magnificent six-point weekend.

“To do it in that style is great,” Dutiaume added.

“We went off track for a little bit over the last four or five weeks when we haven’t been playing our most consistent hockey.

“There were flashes of brilliance but not 60 committed minutes like we’ve seen for big portions of the season.

“This weekend, we started being the team we are again, and we knew that they were ready on Friday afternoon.

“We rarely mentioned the title, we always talked about the process because you don’t want to jinx yourself or get in wrong mind-set, so we stuck with it and it’s well deserved.”

The title win marks Dutiaume’s 20th season at the club, and underlines his status as a club legend, but he has also endured some difficult times as coach and has had to overcome his doubters.

The club’s faith in him has been vindicated.

“I know what sport is like and I know it’s fickle,” he said.

“Earlier on things felt a little more personal to me than now, and everybody in the sport has a short term memory – including myself.

“You can’t dwell on these things or it eats you up.

“You’ve got to keep your emotions in check. You can’t believe the hype too much when you’re high, and when you’re down at your lowest you can’t believe in that either.

“Just stick with your own beliefs and surround yourself with good people and that’s what we did. We brought Hutch in, a former winner of this conference, and we looked beyond stats to recruit wonderful people and that’s really reaping benefits for us.”

Sunday night was also a reward for the investment made by club directors Tom Muir and Jack Wishart, as well as the loyalty they’ve shown Dutiaume over the years.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen Tom Muir smile in a long time when I came off the ice, and I’m happy for them,” he said.

“They’ve been very patient with me over the years and allowed a rookie coach at this level to come in and learn his trade, and stuck by me through difficult times.

“They also allowed us to bring in Dan Correale at the last minute and that shows they are committed to this. It’s well deserved for the organisation and it’s been a long time coming.

“A lot of our players look at the banners at the rink week in, week out, and they want one.

“Well, now they’ve got one for themselves, and they can’t take that away from them.”