This is why Fife Flyers have got their mojo back
You can tell when hockey players switch into play-off mode.
There’s an intensity and focus that you maybe didn’t see during those early games in January as they dig deeper and go harder every game.
Fife Flyers might just have flicked that switch.
After several weeks of faltering results and a tumble down the standings, things are looking good.
The team is skating looser, it has momentum, it’s grafting and, above all, the individual errors and wrong choices, which were costing them so dearly, have suddenly subsided.
Wednesday’s televised game saw them easily go head to head with title chasing Belfast Giants, and it was a game they could certainly have won, or at least taken into overtime. They deserved at least a share of the points.
If the 3-1 scoreline stung - and it was harsh - there were many positives to take.
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They iced without three imports - defencemen Evan Stoflet and Scott Aarssen, and top scorer Paul Crowder - but still delivered a game which harked back to that free-flowing eight-game winning streak in the first half of the season.
Do that every match night from now until March and they’ll be in the play-offs with room to spare.
It’s no co-incidence that the upturn has come just as Chase Schaber starts to skate freely after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
That has re-ignited his partnership with Evan Bloodoff, and the ripples have spread along the bench.
Todd Dutiaume, head coach, touched on it during his post-game media briefing on Wednesday: “Our misfortunes aligned when Schaber got injured. After that the wins were sporadic and we were in consistent.”
But it goes deeper.
Flyers‘ roster has more than a few guys who enjoy stepping on to the big stage. Play-off hockey is where they come into their own.
Dannick Gauthier is revelling in the heat of battle right now, throwing checks, creating plays and looking for goals. His long, laser-like pass to Brett Bulmer down in Coventry was audacious - and what was even more remarkable was that Mr Hollywood controlled it and delivered a magnificent finish to open the scoring. Little wonder he appeared to kiss Goat as they celebrated!
And it’s NHLer Bulmer who could hold the key to how his this season ends.
Against Giants on Wednesday he delivered another stunning goal to light up the rink – another one for a showreel already packed with highlights.
Like Gauthier, he too was at the very heart of the play all night, driving the team forward and creating chances at every opportunity. With his background in ‘The Show’, Bulmer is a big-game player - and every match from her on in is as big as they come for Flyers.
Carlo Finucci was another stand-out skater in midweek – the engine of the team playing some pretty smart two way hockey too – as Flyers, individually and collectively, moved quicker, made better decisions, and regained that buzz which saw them top the table back in October.
Wednesday’s game also saw big performances from guys like Craig Moore, who soaked up the ice time, and Bari McKenzie who has had an excellent season in a Fife jersey. More than a few fans want him signed up now for next season.
Dutiaume has consistently voiced his faith in his line-up, and, having weathered some bumps in the road, there’s a sense maybe things are starting to align for the run-in.
“Guys like Carlo, Goat and Bloods all look different hockey players right now,” he said. “That’s great for us to see happening.
“We always knew what they were capable of.”
Defeat at the hands of Giants kept Flyers firmly in the pack, but they are better placed than their closest challengers.
They are tied on points with Sheffield Steelers but have four games in hand.
They lead eighth placed Manchester Storm by four points with three games in hand.
It’s all about momentum at this stage of the season - hitting peak form at the right time.
There is still a lot of hockey to be played, but a four-point weekend, and a fabulous performance against Giants suggests Fife have got their mojo back.
“We’re missing a couple of players through injury - getting them back in the line-up is crucial. That adds a new dynamic to this club.”
Stepping back into a winning team is also a lot easier than one that is off form.
It could be a fascinating run in to this 80th anniversary season.