Following Sunday’s win against the Braehead Clan, already their 5th EIHL win over the Clan this season, the Fife Flyers found themselves sitting in 3rd place in Britain’s Elite Ice Hockey League. After a difficult campaign last season, Britain’s oldest professional ice hockey club have recovered, and will aim to be in contention for silverware this year. By Grant Barnes.
The success of the Flyers this season is a stark contrast to the team’s fortunes last season, after an unremarkable season saw a return of 53 points from 52 games, and a first round exit in the Playoffs. However, after an overhaul in personnel and renewed faith in coach Todd Dutiaume, the Flyers are looking to be on the right track coming into 2018.
After the disappointment from last season, Dutiaume and assistant Jeff Hutchins quickly looked to rebuild their Flyers team. The re-signing of star forward Chase Schaber installed some early hope, especially after losing talisman Ryan Dingle. New signings such as Liam Heelis and Evan Bloodoff quickly became fan favourites for their hard work and tenacity in helping the team, whilst adding some much-needed quality when called upon.
The new recruits and familiar faces have been welcomed with open arms from the Flyers faithful, and that support has been rewarded with a terrific first half of the season. There seems to be a real togetherness within the squad and that is showing on the ice, with the Flyers currently boasting the best defensive record in the EIHL, allowing 71 goals in 28 games, 14 goals less than league leaders Cardiff Devils. There is a resilience about Fife this season that was often lacking last year, and having a tighter unit is certainly showing on the ice. This resilient defence is not without discipline, as Fife have conceded 299 penalty minutes, the lowest in the league. Keeping the league’s toughest defence well disciplined has played a huge part in the Flyers’ success this season.
Whilst keeping it tight on one end of the ice, the Flyers are also making the most of their opportunities at the other end. Fife have established themselves as one of the most dominant teams on the power play in the league, scoring 37 goals when their team has the man advantage. Fife also have the 3rd best conversion rate when on the power play, converting on around 24% of their power play opportunities, behind only Cardiff and the Guildford Flames.
Fife have maintained a knack of keeping it tight defensively for the majority of the 60 minutes, and making the most of the opportunities when they have the extra manpower. Fife’s attack as a whole has vastly improved this season, with the Flyers scoring 116 goals in 28 games so far this season. Fife have certainly shown themselves to be no pushovers in the league, and have the killer edge that was desperately lacking last season. 20 of those goals have been accredited to Bloodoff, who currently sits tied for 2nd in the league’s top scorers.
A bright spark from last season was the form of netminder Shane Owen, and after his departure to Sweden this left a huge gap to fill. Step forward Andy Iles, who has proved himself more than capable when called upon. On average Iles allows 2.44 goals per game and has a save percentage of .917%, sitting 3rd in the league on both categories. It’s a huge boost for the league’s best defence to have a netminder they know they can rely on. Iles’ reflexes look set for him to follow in a line of great Flyers netminders, the highlight being a breathtaking stop against the Edinburgh Capitals in December, when Iles somehow managed to spread his body across goal after scurrying from behind the net to deny Edinburgh.
Schaber recently described the Flyers as “pests”, that no-one looks forward to playing against. Their progress has been steady and under the radar, and that’s probably the way Fife want it. There have been mumbles of a chance at silverware after an excellent Challenge Cup quarter-final victory over Belfast Giants, and their league standing sets them up nicely for the second half of the season, with plenty games in hand to ramp further up the table. What Fife do have on their hands is a team that is willing to work extremely hard for each other with genuine quality to finish teams off. What the rest of the season holds for Fife is yet to be seen, however, there is a buzz around the Auld Barn which the players will rely on for that extra motivation to kick on for the rest of the season, and bring a sense of pride back to Britain’s oldest professional ice hockey club.