The Fife Flyers way: Conference title secured after dramatic night in Dundee

Fife Flyers celebrate winning the Gardiner Conference title in Dundee. Pic: Steve Gunn
Fife Flyers celebrate winning the Gardiner Conference title in Dundee. Pic: Steve Gunn

Dundee Stars 6 Fife Flyers 7 (OT)

There is the easy way, there is the hard way, and then there is the Fife Flyers way.

But the truly extraordinary circumstances in which the team clinched the Gardiner Conference title in Dundee last night only made it all the sweeter.

Fife needed just a point from their trip to Dundee Stars to claim their first ever Elite League trophy, but even at 4-1 up with two-thirds of the game complete, something just didn't seem right.

It was all going far too well.

Fast forward to the final minute, and there is utter dejection on the Fife bench as Dundee Stars complete a remarkable fightback to take a 6-5 lead with just 46 seconds left on the clock.

The title celebrations, it seemed, would have to wait for another week at least, and a huge travelling support would have to head home disappointed.

What happened next was the stuff of fairytales as Flyers made one final push to rescue the match.

The face-off was won, Andy Iles was withdrawn for an extra skater, and with 16 seconds to go, Charlie Mosey fired the puck into the back of the Stars net to turn despair into elation, and spark wild scenes of celebration on the ice, across the away bench, and in the stands.

In the concourse, club captain Russ Moyer, reduced to spectator by injury, was jumping for joy and banging the plexiglass separating him from his team. That's how much it meant.

And just to top it off, Flyers went on to clinch the victory in overtime, and with it a magnificent six-point weekend, thanks to new signing Dan Correale's first goal for the club. Nobody can say they didn't clinch it in style. For Dundee there was only disbelief.

What mattered most is that, after seven long years in the EIHL, the club can now call itself champions, and head coach Todd Dutiaume will finally get his hands on a trophy that had agonisingly slipped from his grasp in the past, often by the smallest of margins.

A fitting accolade for one of Flyers' greatest ever servants in his 20th year at the club. Surely now a testimonial beckons.

It was also a richly deserved reward for the hard work the players and backroom staff have put into this season, with the quality of hockey on display matched by the team's character and resilience, which was perfectly encapsulated in Dundee.

And with plenty more hockey still to come, and two trophies still up for grabs, this may not be the end of it. If the team can take the focus, drive and energy of this conference-clinching weekend into the rest of the season, there is no reason why they cannot challenge for more top honours.

The difficulty finding car park spaces outside Dundee Ice Arena was followed by a hunt for seats inside the building as Flyers fans travelled in their hundreds in the hope of witnessing history. None of them could have scripted what was to follow.

After a 7-0 home win over the same opponents in Kirkcaldy the previous night, Flyers made the perfect start with a powerplay opener after just 1.31 as Peter LeBlanc skated through the middle of the Stars defence to beat netminder Travis Fullerton.

Stars, however, were out for revenge on home ice and they quickly levelled affairs with a powerplay goal of their own through Gabriel Lévesque at the back post on 5.52.

In between the opening goals, a fight broke out as Flyers defenceman Tommy Muir dropped the gloves with fellow Brit Adam Harding for an old-fashioned toe-to-toe in centre ice, which only electrified the big crowd even more.

There was no further scoring in an evenly contested opening period, but as they had for most of the previous night, Flyers found an extra gear that Dundee couldn't match in the second period to crack open a 4-1 lead.

A huge error from home player-coach Omar Pacha gifted Shayne Stockton a chance he wasn't going to pass up as he put Flyers back in front on 22 minutes.

Then two goals in a minute around the half mark put clear daylight between the sides, with Stockton again netting, this time on the wraparound before Liam Heelis put the puck on a plate for Danick Gauthier to steer home the fourth.

Stars immediately called a time-out in an attempt to stop the game running away from them like the previous night, and a goal just a split-second before the second interval buzzer put a different complexion on things, as Marc-Olivier Mimar found the angle to beat Iles on 39.59, who complained in vain to the referees that he had been shoved over.

Flyers headed into their ninth period of a three-game weekend hoping to have enough left in the tank to see them over the line, but their hopes were dealt a blow in the opening minute as the puck rocketed into Ian Young's face, which saw him head for the dressing room with blood gushing from his nose.

Momentum was starting to shift heavily in Dundee's favour and Fife called a time-out to settle things down, only for Stars to score immediately afterwards as Pacha's effort from the blue line hit the backboards, then rebounded into the net off the back of Iles' skate.

Such a stroke of misfortune was a bad omen, but Flyers responded superbly, and Gauthier scored what looked to be a key goal, restoring the two-goal cushion with a brilliant individual effort on 46.26, holding off his marker and lifting the puck over Fullerton in one sweet motion.

But any thoughts of that being enough to ease the tension were wiped out in the 49th minute when Jimmy Jensen brought Dundee back to within a goal at 4-5 on the powerplay as Ricards Birzins sat out a holding penalty.

Flyers were back on the tenterhooks and netminder Iles was performing heroics in the face of waves of Dundee attacks.

Young handed his side a boost by bravely returning to the ice with a clean shirt and cottons balls stuffed up his bloodied nose.

But with 1.53 left, Stars pressure finally paid off with another powerplay goal from Chris Lawrence levelling the match at 5-5, and suddenly, Flyers were in a dogfight to hang onto the point they needed to wrap up the conference.

The stress along the Fife bench was palpable, and when the referees took exception to a comment made by Young, Fife were back on the penalty kill and staring down the barrel with little more than a minute left to play.

Then disaster struck. Lukas Lundvald stepped onto a rebound off the backboards to fire past Iles and put Dundee 6-5 in front. The home end erupted, and Fife hearts sank.

Surely there was no time to recover, but a team that has made a habit of the unlikeliest comebacks simply refused to accept its fate, and they somehow dug deeper than ever before to get an equaliser in the little time that remained, thanks in no small part to sublime skill from Stockton, who set-up Mosey for a close range finish.

Stockton had the game of his life, and was heart-warming to see him have such an influence after his injury woes last season, but there was no more fitting scorer of the goal that clinched the conference than Mosey, a guy initially signed on a three-week try-out who became the heartbeat of this Fife team.

Flyers celebrations had to be put on hold for overtime, but when Stockton again superbly set up Correale for the winner, the party could truly begin, with champagne bottles making their way onto the ice as the team posed for pictures and received the acclaim of the delirious away fans.

The emotion poured from the players as they made their way back to the away dressing room, where the smell of blood, sweat and alcohol has never been sweeter.

The oldest team in the UK is back winning trophies at the top level of the sport.

That truly is the Fife Flyers way.