Two teams to go in Chasing Dtagons’ team-by-team preview of the season, even though we’re three weeks into it…today, with their roster finally complete, it’s the turn of the Fife Flyers…
“You don’t say much of anything
When questioned of your whereabouts…”
Alkaline Trio: “Bloodied Up”
This is a season where Todd Dutiaume and Danny Stewart will want to go from the “nearly men” who came a few slightly questionable refereeing decisions away from kicking Nottingham out of the season ending playoff party at their house to pushing for the top five. They’ve built a roster this year catering once again to a style of hockey equal parts skilled and aggressive, as befits the playing style mix of their coaching squad. It’s a squad built to take advantage of arguably the most intimidating home venue in the league-the venerable Fife Ice Arena combines a large ice surface with a truly old-school atmosphere and hostile crowd to make a trip to the Kingdom on the banks of the Forth a daunting prospect no matter where you’re coming from. So what do they look like?
NETMINDERS: #29 Blair Daly, #32 Kevin Regan
The Flyers are one of the few teams in the league with a genuine netminder tandem-new arrival Kevin Regan will likely take the majority of starts with his decent AHL and European pedigree, as imports do in this league, but should injury problems flare as they have in the past (the 32-year-old American has injured both hips in the past) then local boy Blair Daly can step in and play solidly. So far Regan has a 2.74 GAA, bettered only by two netminders in the league, and he’ll need to keep that form up throughout the season for the Flyers to really make an impression on the upper reaches of the table. However, he’s settled in quickly in Fife, and made the transition from Bryan Pitton almost seamless.
#2 Tom Muir, #4 Chris Wands, #5 Kyle Horne, #13 Euan Forsyth, #37 Tim Hartung, #50 Matt Nickerson, #64 Justin DaCosta
This is a defensive unit with a distinctly home-grown flavour…all four British players are proud Fifers born within walking distance of “the auld barn”-and their familiarity both with the rink and the fans is a massive point in their favour. Kyle Horne in particular seems to have been around forever, making his debut for the Flyers at 16-he’s 32 now and the old head leading a group that really doesn’t lack experience-the youngest, Chris Wands, is 25. Offensively the Flyers will be driven by the skilled hands of Justin DaCosta and Tim Hartung, both of whom (DaCosta in particular) have shown their capabilities well-DaCosta leads the team in points and is second in goals, while Hartung has had an injury setback but can play either D or forward-his versatility will be key. Matt Nickerson, meanwhile, has already shown that he won’t mess around, taking a four-game suspension for beating the snot out of Cardiff’s Andrew Lord and then carrying his retribution too far. With Nickerson looming Hartung and DaCosta can do their skilled thing, with the Brits providing a steady, no-nonsense group to back them up. It’s a well-balanced unit.
#10 Stephen Gunn, #11 Todd Dutiaume, #15 Josh Scoon, #18 Allan Anderson, #20 Andy Contois, #21 Bobby Chaumont, #22 Matt Reber, #23 Jamie Wilson, #26 Jordan Fulton, #39 Danny Stewart, #44 Derek Roehl, #76 Rok Pajic
The Flyers, like their D, have gone for a group of forwards that aren’t especially flashy in the main but are more than capable of turning on the skill if necessary-Todd Dutiaume will probably spend most of his time as a coach but is available to play if needed, and has the wily old head of a decorated veteran of the British game-Danny Stewart will provide snap and snarl on the third line as well as assistant-coaching nous that’s still surprisingly underrated by some. The British contingent of Wilson, Scoon, Gunn and newbie Allan Anderson, like the defence, are all Fife locals and fan favourites, while the dangerous Bobby Chaumont, who’s scored at a rate of a point per game in his EIHL career, is the only other returning import. Andy Contois is a very useful scorer in his own right, while Matt Reber provides speed and two-way play, Jordan Fulton combines agitating ability with a nose for the net and Derek Roehl is young, eager and, based on early evidence, like Fulton a wind-up merchant par excellence.
But the most exciting arrival for Fifers (potentially) is the last one. Slovenian Rok Pajic comes from Pontebba in Italy, where he scored a point-per-game last year after extensive experience in the Czech league system, one of the best in Europe. We’re told he’s a skilled, creative forward who loves to make plays…the kind of player that will win teams games. He’s an excellent capture for Fife and will likely slot straight into the top six, probably allowing Reber to drop to a more comfortable 2nd-line role along with Derek Roehl. Pajic could, potentially, be one of the sleeper signings of the season if he settles, and may well be worth a look for fantasy teams everywhere. This is a forward collection that, while not quite as star-studded as some others in the league, is potentially a hidden diamond mine.
COACH: Todd Dutiaume (with Danny Stewart)
The Fife coaching team is one that has very clear goals this season-after winning the conference last year a repeat will be the target, along with an appearance at the playoff weekend and potentially a cup trophy. Todd Dutiaume is an institution in Kirkcaldy-he’s an honorary Fifer in the eyes of every fan in the Kingdom and many outside, joining the Flyers in early 1999 and simply never leaving…I remember marvelling at his skill on Fife’s first visit to Coventry ever in 2000 and many times since. Now, he’s moved behind the bench, and with several years cutting his teeth during Fife’s years in the SNL (aka the British hockey wilderness for such a storied club) and playing over 400 games in Flyers colours he’s part of the scenery at the Auld Barn. He and Danny Stewart have built a close and mutually beneficial working relationship which allows for stability at the top even during the nightmarish period last year that saw the tragic death of Dutiaume’s wife and newborn twins followed by a broken kneecap for the 39-year-old Canadian as he (amazingly) returned to playing towards the end of the season.
With Dutiaume and Stewart at the helm the Flyers have two of the British’s games strongest and most respected characters, and are well set for another season of competition.
Andy Contois-Rok Pajic-Bobby Chaumont
Derek Roehl-Matt Reber-Jordan Fulton
Danny Stewart-Stephen Gunn-Jamie Wilson
Matt Nickerson-Justin DaCosta
Kyle Horne-Tim Hartung
Tom Muir-Chris Wands
Kevin Regan/Blair Daly
PLAYER TO WATCH: Rok Pajic
We’ve already mentioned Pajic’s impressive pedigree in Italy and the Czech leagues, but not that he’s also an established Slovenian international, with 50 caps for his country. At 5’10 and 168lbs he may require a little while to adjust to the physicality of the EIHL but when he does-watch out. This guy could be the real deal and one of the top scorers in the Gardiner Conference if he settles.
The Flyers are a team for whom a repeat of last season’s making the playoffs is now not something to aim for, but the minimum target. It will be a tricky ask as they’ve improved but so have all the other teams in the Gardiner Conference and indeed the league as a whole…you only have to look at the blistering start of Dundee to see that this year the Scottish teams, now fully established back and unwilling to occupy the “also-ran” status they were saddled with in their first few in the EIHL, are aiming much higher than just winning their own regional battles. In their 75th anniversary year, the Flyers are aiming to get back up to the top of the sport and continue the proud winning tradition that the ghosts haunting the historic Ice Arena set over many years. While they may not pull out a league title (although Dundee’s early heroics will have put fire in the bellies of all the Scottish teams) there is nothing to say they can’t challenge for a cup competition or go at least one step further in a playoff run.
However, with the Gardiner Conference looking tighter than a frightened mouse’s backside and the EIHL becoming more competitive not just by the season but by the week, like all the teams the Flyers will have to be on top of their game all night, every night to be sure of improving on last season.