If Fife Flyers need fresh motivation or inspiration ahead of this weekend’s play-off quarter-finals, they should look no further than the club’s archives.
It’s exactly 40 years ago that a team of legends was created; one that didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘defeat’
The Class of ‘76-77 was forged in Kirkcaldy and became Grand Slam champions.
It went 32 games without defeat, and became the first, and only, Scottish team to deliver a 100 per cent record. Only one other UK club, Streatham Redskins, can match that – and they did it four times!
That Flyers team mixed skill with strength in equal measure.
And it played for the jersey.
That, perhaps, more than anything, is the quality Flyers must embrace this weekend.
This team hasn’t lost to Giants in Kirkcaldy all season.
It has shown a real relish for playing teams in the tougher Erdhart Conference and posted some fine victories.
And it has the potential to win the quarter-final on home ice and head on to the finals weekend.
But it has a flipside.
This team has taken nights off, and turned in the most lethargic of shifts before flicking the switch back to ‘play’ mode to try to salvage games.
Against Dundee last Saturday they played for just 11 minutes, according to Todd Dutiaume. That’s one half of one period of hockey.
If they do that against Belfast, the season finale on home ice will be utter anti-climactic.
As they prepare for the Giants, Dutiaume and Jeff Hutchins should perhaps open the door to the dressing-room and introduce the current team to the Class of ‘77; guys like Chic Cottrell, Kenny Horne, Gordon Latto and the coach, Law Lovell, to name but four.
Guys who know what it takes to win silverware.
Guys who had a strong mental attitude to go an entire season with a perfect record,
Guys who went on to take back to back Grand Slams and sweep up a host of individual honours.
Put them in the room, close the door, and let them speak with honesty and utter clarity on what is on the line this weekend, what it means to play for Flyers, and what has to be delivered.
Dutiaume’s season-long frustration was evident as he spoke of the choices – the wrong choices – made last weekend by his team.
He spoke of “the choice not to back check” and even “the choice to sulk on the bench.’’
But he also knows he has a roster that has the talent to execute a tight road game and win big on home ice; a team that, when it brings its A-game and mindset, can compete with the very best in the EIHL.
And he knows that, regardless of the result this weekend, the fans won’t buy anything less than 60 minutes of honest toil.
If Flyers want to make the play-off finals, then they’re going to have to do it the hard way by eliminating Belfast.
If they want to make the showcase final there’s every chance they may have to remove a team of the calibre of Cardiff.
That roadmap, Dutiaume admits, is “incredibly difficult” –but it is one the team has to be ready to navigate if it wants to be considered champions, or even contenders for the crown.
He has, in Ryan Dingle, a true leader, who’ll chase every puck into every corner, and do what is necessary to drive the team forward.
He has, in Chase Schaber, a player enjoying some fine form and racking up some big goals.
He has, in Shane Owen, a match-winning goalie who can stone a team of power forwards, and one who commands his zone.
He has, in Brendan Brooks, a powerhouse who drives his line and brings the experience of over 1000 games to the dressing-room, and Russ Moyer, a winner with Sheffield Steelers, who has spoken of his desire to lift silverware with Fife.
That experience then moves up a notch to the Stanley Cup-winning Ric Jackman, and to the playmaker Sebastien Thinel, whose sublime passes make the chances that can deliver goals that change games.
If those elements combine and the team sparks, then the weekend holds the promise of a thrilling play-off encounter.
But everything depends on Saturday night in Belfast.
Giants will go at Fife with gusto.
They’ll want to establish a high tempo to test, and exploit, their opponents’ road legs, and they’ll throw check after check to knock them off their stride.
In a nutshell, Flyers have to deliver the road game of their season.
Victory would be a huge achievement – every single game between the two sides this season has gone with the home team – but the simple aim must be to keep it as tight as possible to bring Belfast back to Kirkcaldy for a thrilling winner-takes-all scenario; the very sort Fife teams have revelled in over the decades.
A one-goal hockey game would be perfect.
A thumping defeat would be utterly demoralising.
Anything in between sets up a whole range of possibilities. It’s a hard one to call.
It’s been a long season for Flyers – one cursed with inconsistency and all the frustrations that brings – but it can still be extended for one more weekend.
If big games bring out the best in big players then maybe, just maybe, the fans are set for an epic finale.
It’s time for the team to deliver. Just as it did in ‘77 ...