FIFE FLYERS 3 SHEFFIELD STEELERS 5
by Austin Young
FIFE FLYERS’ play-off hopes took another knock on Saturday, as the Kirkcaldy men were edged out by the Sheffield Steelers in a fiery encounter at the Fife Ice Arena.
Despite the fact that the defeat means the Flyers haven’t won any of their last eight matches, they had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of by the time the final buzzer rang, having pushed the Elite League’s second-placed team the whole way.
Hopes weren’t particularly high for a win amongst the Fife faithful before face-off, with the Flyers’ recent run of results against the top teams in the league being slightly less than stellar. However, after the Kirkcaldy side more than held their own in an ill-tempered first period, optimism began to grow.
Indeed, the Fife performance in the opening period alone was a huge improvement over recent games, with the Flyers looking just as likely to score as their opposition plus the defence looking rock-solid despite playing much of the period short-handed after being called for six minor penalties in just the first 20 minutes.
Things got even better for the Kirkcaldy men in the second, with Danny Stewart putting the Flyers ahead on 22 minutes with a well-struck shot from distance on the power-play.
The goal seemed to rattle the Steelers and they amped up the physicality from there, hoping to take advantage of an area where Flyers have been lacking for much of the season.
However, this initially worked to the detriment of the Sheffield men. On 28 minutes, Steelers import Colt King seemed to be so pre-occupied with finishing off a big hit on Flyers defenceman Kyle Horne that he failed to notice the breakaway at the other end of the ice.
This culminated in Frank Bakrlik firing the puck past John DeCaro to put the Flyers two up through another power-play goal and send the home fans into dream street.
The Steelers are second in the league for a reason though and their strength in depth was evident over the next few minutes.
Firstly when Jason Hewitt forced the puck over the line after somewhat of a stramash on the half-hour mark to bring the Sheffield men within one, then secondly just two minutes later, when Luke Fulghum broke free from the Flyers defence to fire his effort into the roof of Garrett Zemlak’s net to tie the game up on the power-play.
Many might have fancied the Flyers to crumble from here – after all, they have been guilty of letting leads slip in the second half of games throughout the season.
However, if anything the setback seemed to spur Todd Dutiaume’s men on over the rest of the periodand they were duly rewarded for their efforts just before the 35 minute mark when Stewart tapped in off of an assist from Matt Cohen on yet another power-play effort to put the home team a goal up heading into the final period.
There was more drama right at the start of the third, when Bakrlik was tripped on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. However, the big Czech was unable to convert the opportunity to put the Flyers two up.
This was a game that Sheffield really didn’t want to lose as they continued their challenge for the Elite League title and it showed in the final period, with the Sheffield men amping up the physicality at every opportunity.
They tried desperately to find a way past Garrett Zemlak in the Fife net and they rewarded their sizable travelling support when Luke Fulghum scored his second of the night to tie things up on 44 minutes.
Seven minutes later, the Steelers were in front for the first time in the match when Colt King put the final touch on a bit of a goal-line scramble.
From there, it might have been easy to predict a Sheffield win, but Fife had played their hearts out all night and didn’t want to settle for a narrow defeat.
Indeed, the Fife Ice Arena came unglued with just five minutes of the game remaining when Flyers’ player-coach Todd Dutiaume seemed to tie things up after squeezing the puck past DeCaro’s glove.
Dutiaume and his Fife team-mates were convinced it was in and the look of sheer joy on his face as he skated back towards the bench showed how much this goal would have meant to all concerned.
However, after protests from the Sheffield players and consultation from the goal-judge, it was wiped out. From the vantage point of Section G, it was, admittedly, touch and go, but it was a cruel break for Dutiaume and his men and the equaliser was the least they deserved after playing their hearts out all game.
Again, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Fife, but they still kept on pressing and only the post denied Toms Hartmanis with just 60 seconds of the game remaining. The Flyers pulled Zemlak to get an extra attacker on the ice and Sheffield finally put the game to bed on 59.23, when Jeff Legue slotted the puck into the empty net.