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Flyers will be tough to bring down to earth

Ten days ago Fife Flyers lay second bottom of the Elite Ice Hockey League, but the form they are taking into next weekend's play-off finals in Nottingham is such that their coach seems justified in claiming they can end the season as British champions.

Fife, out of nowhere, are the form team heading into play-off finals weekend
Fife, out of nowhere, are the form team heading into play-off finals weekend

Todd Dutiaume has overseen an extraordinary turn-around in his team's fortunes at the end of what has been a breakthrough season for Scottish ice hockey as a whole.

Their home and away wins in the weekend's two-legged quarter-final for an 8-4 aggregate victory over a Dundee Stars side that had itself been celebrating making history on its own ice just a fortnight earlier, was just the latest demonstration of how much momentum they have generated in recent weeks.

Dundee's victory in the Gardiner Conference - the sub-section of the overall league which is contested by the four Scottish teams and Hull Stingrays - had earned them second seeding going into the knockout stage of the season, behind the dominant Belfast Giants.

Yet the following weekend Fife first inflicted only the Giants' sixth league defeat of the 52-match campaign upon the Irish side and the next day served notice of what was to come when they claimed a shoot-out win over Dundee.

Two more vital wins over Braehead Clan on the final weekend of the regular season saw them rise from ninth place in the 10-team league, above only the toiling Edinburgh Capitals, to seventh, earning what both they and Dundee had seen as the ideal outcome, a brace of winner-takes-all home and away derbies.

That had guaranteed Scottish involvement in the play-off finals at Nottingham next weekend for the first time in the decade-long history of the Elite League.

However, as if to emphasise how significant this campaign has been for Scottish ice hockey, they were both beaten to that place in history by the injury-ravaged Clan who had limped into the quarter-finals but reversed their appalling run of form by crushing Nottingham Panthers 4-0 last Thursday and 5-1 in Saturday's return at Braehead.

With six successive wins now registered in pressurised matches, it is, though, the Flyers who have given all concerned reason to worry and Dutiaume acknowledged that when asked if they believed they could now win the title.

"We have to at this point," he replied. "When you go into a finals weekend and it's just a one-off game then anything can happen. A team who shows up hot can go on a run and we're a hot team right now and a confident team. If we go in there and believe in ourselves I certainly fancy our chances.

"I tell you what, the switch flicked for this team two months ago and with just a minor blip here and there they haven't looked back. They show up to play as a unit and we fancy our chances against anybody.

"I'm delighted for the guys earning a well deserved trip to Nottingham. Hopefully some of the critics are starting to believe in these guys. I know the fans are and we're a very popular team going into the play-offs right now."

In saying so, he accepts that there was a point in the season it was not unreasonable to suspect that they could not have achieved anything in a very special season for the club which began with them celebrating their 75th anniversary.

"We were under some incredible pressure," Dutiaume acknowledged.

"Last year we got to the quarter-finals, so there was a lot of pressure, we under-performed at the start of the season and as that built and built and built the guys were really feeling it. At one stage we were pretty much written off by everybody and we had a meeting in the room and said, 'you're here because you're having fun, let's take a run at this. It's a long time to play for six or seven weeks with nothing to play for'. They've hardly lost a game since, maybe a couple of minor games, but it's been brilliant."

Fife now face Belfast in Saturday's semi-finals in the reassuring knowledge of having defeated them the last time they played, while Braehead must wait until tonight to find out who they will meet with Sheffield looking their likely opponents as they take an advantage on to their home ice following their 3-2 win in Coventry at the weekend.

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