By Grant Rolland (@GrantRolland87)
THE SEASON THAT WAS
Season 18/19 was a mixed bag for the Fife Flyers, as the team suffered a quick exit from the Challenge Cup, followed by a bright start to the league campaign which saw the Kirkcaldy club, albeit briefly, alongside the early pace-setters in the league standings.
However, it wasn’t to last as Fife were gradually dragged into the dogfight for the final play-off place which the secured with two games to spare.
Offensively sound and with much grit and grind, Flyers didn’t have any problems finding the net, the one obvious problem was the defence, with netminder Shane Owen often left exposed with a plethora of individual errors costing them which must have been frustrating for Todd Dutiaume and Jeff Hutchins.
The much-maligned defenceman Rick Pinkston, who later revealed he had been playing injured for the entire season, was heroic in his transformation from fans scapegoat early on, to leader and some of the best defensive performances of the season going down the final run-in toward the play-offs.
It all ended fairly bittersweetly for Fife, as they met Nottingham Panthers in the Play-Off Quarter Final, and despite taking a two-goal lead in the first leg, Panthers came back to take parity back to the Motorpoint Arena, where Flyers would go down 6-3 on aggregate to finish the campaign.
One thing that was constant though was the support from the fans. There was a real sense of togetherness and although disappointed not to make the final four, it felt like overall the season had been fairly positive, but one of missed opportunity to bring some silverware.
The off-season was a traditionally slow burner for the Flyers faithful, which ended in a flurry of signing activity as the club announced the new arrivals for the new season.
There were extensions for Brit trio Bari McKenzie, Chad Smith and Andrew Little, while imports James Isaacs, Scott Aarssen, Danick Gauthier, Mike Cazzola, Carlo Finucci and captain Chase Schaber all decided on a return, with the latter especially feeling something to prove after an injury-hit campaign.
Netminder Adam Morrison was signed from South Carolina Stingrays, with the 6’3” stopper looking to fill the skates of former goalie Shane Owen, who departed for EIHL champions Belfast Giants.
The new-look defence for Flyers was unveiled with Michael Gutwald joining from Glasgow, former Dundee Star Dylan Quaile returning to the EIHL after spells in North America, Germany and latterly Australia, Swede Jonas Emmerdahl signing from Allsvenskan side IF Bjorkloven.
The blue liners were completed with the acquisition of highly-rated British defenceman Sam Jones, who joined from Swindon Wildcats.
The forward line saw the additions of Tim Crowder, brother of Paul, from Coventry Blaze via the Sydney Ice Dogs where both had been playing alongside Quaile, Kyle Just arriving from Finnish side RoKi and former Cardiff forward James Livingston fresh from winning last season’s Play-Off Championship.
Inevitably there were some departures and there was a slight sense of shock when popular winger Evan Bloodoff left for Coventry while big, physical forward “Hollywood” Brett Bulmer had signed for Nottingham Panthers as part of Tim Wallace’s new regime at the NIC.
After splitting weekends with both Herlev Eagles and EV Landshut, I think our two standouts will be Livingston and Schaber, given that the latter looks back to his best form and Livingston has played at a very decent level throughout his career.
I have very high hopes for both players heading into the new season.
We really could ice three forward lines capable of scoring goals this season. Depth that we have lacked in previous seasons.
One player that has impressed me greatly so far is Sam Jones. The 21-year-old defenceman has looked calm and composed during our pre-season games, popping up with an overtime winner against Landshut, I predict a big season for the young man.
This looks like the year that Flyers can bring some silverware back to the FIA. If the team can live up to its early promise, there is nothing to say that we can’t have a go at the Challenge Cup/Play-Offs.
In the league however, it will, as it always is, be tough. The arena teams recruitment gets more and more difficult to compete with every summer it seems.
As frustrating as the initial period of silence in the off-season is, there is a wave of optimism amongst our fans heading into the competitive action which always comes to the fore.
Let’s hope this is the year this famous old club can bring a major trophy back to the Auld Barn, at long last.
MY FIRST LINE
Finally, this one always will stir debate, but without seeing all the players in action (players are still to arrive before Saturday’s Challenge Cup game against Clan), I can’t see past a top line of:
Gauthier Schaber Livingston