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While most ice hockey players are glad to see the back of a long, arduous season by the time April comes around, they don’t want to start thinking about it again until at least June.

However, there are a few players that have made the move from the Elite League to play their summer in Australia or New Zealand to keep themselves ticking over, while at the same time, getting themselves ready for another campaign here.

A few familiar faces to the Elite League are doing just that and as the seasons in both countries head for their climax, a couple of players who made those very moves are reflecting on their time down under.

Manchester Storm defenceman Zach Sullivan and Bracknell Bees netminder Adam Goss have spent their summer in New Zealand with Canterbury Red Devils.

The Devils have two games left, but are marooned at the bottom of the table, picking up only one win from their 14 games so far so in many respects, it’s a campaign to forget.

For Sullivan and Goss, they’ve had a fabulous experience of a very different country to what they’re used to back home in the UK, especially at this time of year.

The story of ‘Sully’s’ experience is an interesting one, admitting it was a move to help him rekindle his love for ice hockey after what he regarded as a personally difficult season at Glasgow Clan, despite the club enjoying great fortune on the ice.

Sullivan says he went to New Zealand to rekindle his love for ice hockey (PHOTO: Kieran Fanning)

And, despite Canterbury’s woes, it’s helped him achieve that and reinvigorated him before he reunites with former coach Ryan Finnerty in Manchester.

“After a difficult season in Glasgow for me personally, I wanted to fall back in love with hockey again and I spoke to Ross Venus and Ciaran Long, who I know well and they spoke well of Canterbury and the club from their time there,” Sullivan said.

“It seemed like the perfect fit for me to come here and find that love again.  Plus, being a bit of a geek, I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan, coming out here to see where they filmed it allowed me to kill two birds with one stone.

“My love for hockey seemed to fade over time, when you do something over and over every day and can  become something of a chore to the point we forget how lucky we are to do something we really love and get paid for it.

“Plus we get opportunities to travel and see certain parts of the world like I have and you can lose the fun side of it.  I needed to be reminded of that and I’ve come to a place where I’m playing with a great bunch of players and they make it fun.”

For Goss, who joined National League side Bracknell from Milton Keynes Lightning, where it was a frustrating time, sitting on the bench at a time when off the ice turmoil clouded what was a very disappointing season.

His reasons are different to Sullivan’s in so far as he’s looking for the ice time after a season of warming the bench, plus feels he’s ready to kick on in his career.

Adam Goss will be joining Bracknell Bees once his spell with Canterbury finishes (PHOTO: Kieran Fanning)

But Goss highlighted the cost of being able to train at home compared to what he’s currently doing in New Zealand as a reason to prepare for 2019/2020 in a rather different way.

He added: “It’s a beautiful country and we get to travel and see different things, plus playing hockey, it helps to keep us in tune during the off-season as well.

“Zach and I are both at the stage in our careers where we’re looking to push on and develop further to help us go on to bigger and better things in the future.  It also gives us somewhere to play, because ice time is so expensive back home.

“It’s the perfect opportunity to develop over the summer, gain more experience and travel so it’s a move that works well for us.

“Playing for Canterbury is a lot of fun and much less intense than what’s it like in the Elite League.  It’s offence focussed which is good for me, as a goalie, as there are plenty of shots in every game.  It’s definitely much better than being in the gym all summer for hours.”

On the face of it, the schedule seems to be far less intense than it would be in a regular season week in the UK, where it’s wall to wall training, video and systems.

This allows the players the chance to make the most of a wonderful experience of seeing parts of the world they wouldn’t normally see.

Liam Stewart is back in action after taking a year out and has 21 points from his 11 games for Skycity Stampede (PHOTO: James Allan/NZ Herald)

“We train on Tuesday and Thursday nights and most days, I’ve been worked on a fitness programme ‘Gossy’ come up with so I’ve been doing that,” Sullivan said.

“During the days, I’ve been on TripAdvisor and Yelp, looking at reviews for places to go and trying to visit anywhere and everywhere I can.

“We have a couple of games at the weekend then it’s back to it.  I know ‘Gossy’ from the GB U20s so it’s nice to have someone out here I know that makes it a shared experience, coupled with the players out here, it really makes it a lot of fun.

“They keep you right in terms of where to go and will often come with us as well.

Goss added: “It’s a little less professional here than in the UK, which is not a criticism.  The fans are very supportive and we’ve met some fantastic people out here from top to bottom.  There’s just a little less pressure.

“The travelling is the big thing I’ll take from the experience out here and I would recommend it to anyone who can get out here.  It’s a beautiful place and full of amazing people.”

ELITE LEAGUE PLAYERS PAST AND PRESENT PLAYING DOWN UNDER THIS SUMMER

AUSTRALIA:

Paul Crowder (Sydney Ice Dogs)

Tim Crowder (Sydney Ice Dogs)

Grant Toulmin (Sydney Ice Dogs)

Danick Gauthier (Sydney Bears)

Trevor Gerling (Canberra Brave)

Jordan Owens (Melbourne Mustangs)

Maxine Langlier-Parent (Melbourne Mustangs coach)

NEW ZEALAND:

Liam Stewart (Skycity Stampede)

Zach Sullivan (Canterbury Red Devils)

Adam Goss (Canterbury Red Devils)

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Imagine you’re a player sitting in an apartment on the other side of the world, scrolling through your social media feed and seeing your face on a club’s Twitter announcing your return.

Now imagine what’s been posted is three tweets with quotes that may or may not be attributed to you about how you’re pleased to be back, but it’s a stock quote that seems to come from all signings.

Also imagine that accompanying those is a really poor out of focus picture that you would see on a police feed or even Crimewatch rather than a glorious action shot from your last two seasons with the same club.  

There’s also no link to a full story on the website or anything from the coach about how great you’ve been for the last two years and that they just had to have you back.

That must surely how Fife Flyers’ Danick Gauthier must have felt on Saturday morning (or Saturday night in Sydney for him) when he saw possibly one of the worst announcements of a signing in recent times.

Now, I don’t know Gauthier enough to know whether or not he cared enough about the lack of fanfare he got, but you’d like to think he would have been left very disappointed by that.

The fan favourite had the following to say on re-signing for the club “I’m really excited to be back for a third season&can’t wait to get the season underway.
I’m looking forward to playing in the auld barn again, in front of the loyal Flyers fans. " pic.twitter.com/ArcDFFTijt

— Fife Flyers (@FifeFlyers) July 13, 2019

Understandably, so did the Flyers fans who posted in their droves, with one such example below, about how poor an announcement that was and adding their complaints that this sort of strategy is what’s letting the club down.  And they were right.

First of all, knowing who usually takes care of the Fife signing announcements, it definitely wasn’t them.  They’re currently on holiday and I have to be honest, even if it was them left to deal with this shambles, I wouldn’t have blamed them for this.

From what I’m led to understand, this individual is a volunteer so does this for their love of the club and their enjoyment of being involved.  The flack they’ve taken is completely out of order, especially considering they aren’t even in the country.

But it’s a malaise that’s set in that has to be addressed or risk the club continuing to be a laughing stock among the fans.

Knowing Tam Muir and Jack Wishart, they can’t be happy with the amount of criticism they’ve had over this and Todd Dutiaume and Jeff Hutchins will have been embarrassed and angry over this as well.

It’s simply not good enough for a team playing in a professional league and whoever heads up their PR and media strategy, needs to take a look at themselves.

Gauthier is currently playing in Australia with AIHL side Sydney Bears (PHOTO: Jillian McFarlane)

Now, I’m not going to lecture on what clubs should do.  That’s entirely up to them, but I’ve been around enough PRs and signing announcements to know what passes for a good bit of news about the new or latest arrivals.

It doesn’t need to be a flashy two minute video showing them signing their paperwork, but actually hearing from the individual about why they signed, engaging with the support instead of repetitive platitudes is what fans want.

Fancy graphics for social media helps as well, but the formula is a simple one.  Posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc should always be the teaser for a full story on the website.

As long as the piece or the video contain actual quotes from the player and the coach, then that’s more than enough to get the fans salivating over what’s to come.

It’s not rocket science and so much about what Fife did wrong on Saturday is there for everyone to see.  I mean, who posts signing news at 6am on a Saturday morning?

Embarassing! The fans who hand over their hard earned money deserve better! A shambles of a release!!! Whilst the is returning is a brilliant signing it's overshadowed by this kind of PR!! Whoever is doing it sack them and keep yer Money!

— Jamesy Boy (@james_mavor) July 13, 2019

I know the guys involved in the local media in Kirkcaldy have offered their services by way of advising and pointing them in the right direction.  

Whatever you think of them, they and others genuinely want to help and this debacle must force the management to even consider it now if they really have the desire to bring their club up to date in this department.

Fife Flyers have often been accused of selling the fans short and this is probably the best example of it yet, especially considering the esteem in which they hold Danick Gauthier in.

If the announcement is anything to go by, they clearly don’t and that has to change.  For a club that’s big on tradition with the proud history they have and doing things the right way, they’ve scored a spectacular own goal here.  

Fife’s fans, players and coaching staff deserve much better than this.

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It’s been about a week since the format for the Challenge Cup for the new season and to be honest, I’m at a loss as to what has happened to the competition.

In case you did miss it, we had confirmation that the ten Elite League teams will compete for it, with Milton Keynes Lightning no longer in the league.

Like previous years, there’s a group stage, quarter final, semi final and of course, a final which will take place in Cardiff’s Viola Arena, taking place on 8th March 2020.

The group stage sees three groups, one of four and two of three with Belfast Giants, Dundee Stars, Fife Flyers and Glasgow Clan all making up Group A.

Group B comprises of Cardiff Devils, Coventry Blaze and Guildford Flames, while Group C has Manchester Storm, Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers.

The four-team group will play each other once at home and once away – six games. The two three-team groups play each other twice home and twice away.  That’s eight games.

From those ten teams, eight will reach the quarter final, with the four team group seeing three go through while the two smaller groups have the top two from each progress.

Jordan Smotherman scores the goal that wins the Challenge Cup for Belfast Giants (PHOTO: David Williams)

Then the two bottom teams will play off in a one-off game to decide the eighth and final quarter finalist.  Yes, you read that right.

So teams in the three team groups not good enough to qualify automatically after eight games get a ninth game to try and go through, while the team with only six games to play doesn’t.  Hmmm.

By not having a third opponent, you’re compensated with two more games, but can still gain a lifeline to the knockout stage if you end up bottom.  In fact, you could lose all eight games, turn up for the ‘play-in round’ game, win that and you’re through.  Where is the sense in that?

The three group winners will be seeded for the draw (in order of group stage win percentage) and have the option to pick their quarter final opponents from the remaining five teams.

Group winners will have home ice advantage in the return leg (subject to ice availability). In the fourth quarter final, the team with the higher win percentage from the group stage will have home ice advantage in the return leg.

That’s before you even get to the ‘Pick your Opponent’ concept of the ‘draw’ which has amazed and entertained and not always in the way you think.

The thing is, where do we even start with this?  It’s become an unnecessary mess that the concept of just playing a simple tournament is long gone.

Countdown’s Rachel Riley could be on speed dial to help sort out the ‘win percentage’ stat for seedings (PHOTO: Channel 4)

With ten teams, the notion of squeezing them down to eight is laughable.  Sure, the extra fixture can help clubs make five figure sums by getting there, but is it really necessary for a last eight stage now?

What would have been so wrong to have had two groups of five, play each other twice home and away and the top two (or four if you really, really have to have a quarter final) qualify?

Then – and this is where it gets wacky – top of Group A play fourth in Group B, second in A versus third in B and so on.  Is that so difficult?

It doesn’t need seedings or GMs and coaches to put their heads together and pick who they would prefer to play.  You finish in a certain position in the group and you see who you get in the next round once the group stage finishes.  It’s already pre-determined and so much easier.

By trying to make the competition more exciting and have everyone battling for seedings, it’s actually made it far more complicated than it needs to be, with the use of win percentages.  Even Countdown’s Rachel Riley would shrug her shoulders.

While it can be accepted into argument financial implications for teams and which group they play in, there’s got to be a better way than how this was devised.  Should the group stages be drawn fresh every year for example?

On the ice will care of itself and whatever will be, will be of course, but come 9th November – when the groups are scheduled to finish, are we going to sitting trying to figure out higher win percentages?  Let the cards fall and see where we are by the end.

But keep those calculators handy, just in case.

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The recent World Championships in Slovakia showed us how important getting three points can be when it comes to achieve whatever objectives you have.

So, it got us thinking in BIH Towers, how would getting three points for a win in regulation time affect the Elite League going back the last five years?

As it stands of course, it’s two points for a win, either in regulation time or in overtime or penalty shots and one if you lose after 60 minutes.

But, as you’ll see, how the play-offs could have been shaped would be affected, plus in one season, the title could have gone elsewhere.

2018-19

Starting last season, Cardiff Devils and Belfast Giants were tied at 92 points, with the Giants edging the title by virtue of regulation time wins.

However, that extra win in 60 minutes would have saw them take the title by a point in what would have been another fraught weekend.

Glasgow Clan’s late season run of form saw them drop to fourth with Nottingham Panthers taking advantage, but with five more wins in reg time, Pete Russell’s side would have finished third and set up a play-off clash with Sheffield Steelers instead of Guildford Flames.

Steelers would have been above Flyers in the final standings while Manchester Storm, although would have still missed the top eight, would have got to within a point of Coventry Blaze instead of being three points adrift.

2017-18

Four of the top five places would have switched in a three-points system and while Cardiff Devils would be more than comfortably ahead, Manchester Storm would have finished third rather than second.

Adam Keefe, in his first season as Belfast Giants coach, would have been fourth, four points ahead of Nottingham Panthers after claiming five more wins in the 60 than Corey Neilson in his final season.

For the play-off places, Braehead Clan, as they were, could have had a ‘sliding doors’ moment and scraped into the play-offs instead of Coventry Blaze, with 24 reg time wins to 22.  Of course, had this been the case, John Tripp, who left the club after this failure, could have still been in a job.

2016-17

This was the last season where the Conference winners were given preferential seedings, which would have changed the complexion on the play-off ties that took place.

Cardiff again would have been champions, but second to fifth would have been mixed around as Sheffield above Belfast for second and Braehead above Nottingham in fourth.

In the play-offs, Steelers would have lined up to play Fife instead of their old pals, Nottingham, who would have been off to Northern Ireland to play Belfast.

2015-16

Unfortunately, this is the only season where nothing changes in terms of where the teams ended up and it was a case of as you were for the ten teams who took part in this season.

Braehead had the most regulation time wins with 28, compared to Sheffield and Cardiff’s 27 each and had they been able to turn some of those overtime or penalty losses into victories, it could very well have been a different story.

2014-15

If you’re a Braehead fan, look away now as this is one of two seasons in the last ten years where the title would have gone elsewhere under a three-point system.

Clan, under Ryan Finnerty, were pipped to the title by a point by Sheffield Steelers, however three more victories in 60 minutes would have seen them take the title by two points.

The third team in that race, Cardiff, would have been a little more adrift, finishing five behind the champions instead of the two they did.

At the bottom end, Fife Flyers and Hull Stingrays would have traded places as the Kirkcaldy side would have edged Stingrays on reg wins.

The other year where a title would have been won somewhere else would have been in 2009-10 when Belfast would have won in regulation time once more than Coventry, with both locked in 109 points.

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It’s the time of the year the fans look forward to as they count the days till the new season.  The new fixtures schedule.

All ten Elite League teams met on Tuesday to thrash out when they will all play each other in the coming year and it’s a period that yields a lot of questions.

In my former guise as one of the two Elite League media officers, this was a time of the year where the questions used to come thick and fast from people hoping to find a little nugget of info.

“Do we have a weekend in Scotland/Belfast?”, “Do we have a double header?”, “Who do we play first?” were just some of the queries my old partner, Rob McGregor and I fielded in our duties.

There was even one or two that kept on and on wanting to know.  Another was “I heard that (insert team name here) are playing (insert opponent’s here) on the first day.  Is this true?” Nice try.

I like to think we did our best to answer the questions politely and courteously without coming across as cheeky or rude.

This was also the time of year when people wanted to know when the play-off finals weekend was.  A perfectly fair question, but in our defence, we weren’t in the room to know this and only got notification when the board wanted it announced.

Some things you should know about the fixtures meeting:

• Nothing will be announced from today’s meeting
• It will take at least a couple of weeks for clubs to make sure all is good with their own lists

— Craig @ BIH (@BIHCraig) June 25, 2019

• If your team has a run of away games that could affect their form during the season, remember, your club agreed to them. This is not the bidding of the league.
• Soon, all will be revealed and we can look forward to the new season.

— Craig @ BIH (@BIHCraig) June 25, 2019

Our successor will see those questions pop up and the fact there’s talk of announcing them in the next couple of weeks is already roughly two weeks quicker than our own experience.

I put a series of tweets out yesterday about what not to expect from the fixtures meeting and assuming no great changes to the practice have been made, they should still be relevant and true.

The point about a run of away games that could be harmful to form was an important one.  How many times did we get complaints bemoaning a run of games and how the league was “corrupt” because they were complicit?

Quite a few as it went, but every one of those complaints singularly missed the point that the fixtures are agreed by each and every team before being signed off.  This was not the league pointing a finger and ordering them to take it.

So, if your team is on a six-seven-eight game run away from home or over the space of a couple of weeks and losing, you know where to direct your complaints.

By all accounts, the guys in the room were happy at how it all went yesterday and I was reading back a piece I did for the league a couple of years ago with David Simms, who chairs the fixtures meeting where he spoke of the intricacies of the process.

One criticism is why this supposed outdated process continues to work in 2019 when technology would be able to do it for them.

In 2017, Simms told me: “There isn’t a computer program that can do this for us. We’ve approached the English Premier League, rugby union, cricket and even reached out to ice hockey leagues in Sweden and Germany.

Nottingham Panthers played Sheffield Steelers in the opening weekend of last season (PHOTO: Panthers Images)

“We’ve had all kinds of computer experts looking at it, but the bottom line is there isn’t a program that can factor in the variables and intricacies of the Elite League because of the availability of dates with some teams compared to others.

“You go from the arena teams, who are restricted as to what dates they available compared to others who can choose whatever dates they want.

“It’s a fine balance to meet, but it’s a stressful few weeks for everyone concerned.

People will still scoff at that now, but you can argue there are more variables to consider than what any football, rugby, cricket league have to take into account.

Whatever way, it’s a system that works fine in the Elite League and maybe one day, all this can be entrusted to technology.  After all, machines are deciding offsides and penalties in football now and that’s going well.  I think.

But, do you know, as long as each team play each other the number of times they’re meant to, then what difference does it make how it’s thrashed out?

Until then, we have the wait for the fixtures themselves and we can really start looking ahead.  And if you have any questions, please direct them to the Elite League.

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We’re in an interesting time of year when fans everywhere are keen to know the make-up of their team for next season so speculation is naturally rife.

Visit any fans forum, Twitter or any other social media platform and it’s full of people claiming they’d love to have certain players in their team or have heard rumours their team is talking to or have signed a particular player.

While doing that, check the same platforms for any professional football club up and down the country and you’ll see the same sort of chat/discussion/dismissal of opinions of sources.

Now, let’s take those discussions and put them on a media platform or to a newspaper.  If you look at a newspaper today, or any other day this week, you’ll see a back page exclusive of one of the top football clubs linked with a signing, or the signing has been made and that confirmation is due.

In that sport in particular, this is every day practice.  Recently in Scotland, one of the top tabloids revealed that Steve Clarke would take over as Scotland manager days before the SFA made the announcement to confirm the news.

There wasn’t an outcry that The Scottish Sun had leaked news or betrayed any confidences in doing this.  Someone at the paper was given the wink by a pal or an acquaintance at the SFA to run the story.  The same thing will happen when Man Utd/Liverpool/Rangers/Celtic are on the verge of making signings.  That’s how it works.

Which leaves me scratching my head over people getting all defensive whenever someone lets slip a rumour that’s doing the rounds which proves to be true.

In football, news of Steve Clarke’s appointment as Scotland coach was broken days before the Scottish FA formally announced the news (PHOTO: Sky Sports)

In this business, people hear things all the time.  Some choose to post on social media. Others keep their powder dry.  We could post half a dozen signing stories right now that we know are in the pipelines, but there’s something  about not putting a story out before the club does that fans seem to hold dear.

Why is that?  What’s with the big secret?

I completely follow the argument it’s the club’s news and they should put it out, but if people are already talking about it and it’s imminent, where is the harm in having local media, for example, getting the scoop?  It gets people talking, even builds excitement among the fanbase.

The club will generally have the interview with the coach, the new player and get the exclusive chat once the ink is on the contract regardless so why is the source of announcement seen as so important?

I can’t get my head around why people are so uptight on this issue, given that it is positive news and you’ve got the fans buzzing as the club prepare the metaphorical unveiling, which will lead to loads more hits and views on their various media platforms.

Sure, you’ll get the odd red herring.  After all, there’s the running joke this day that there’s still someone at Glasgow Airport waiting for Colt King to arrive to sign for the Clan.  While there’s no action, we should be keeping ice hockey in the headlines with constant signing news and speculation.

It was tweeted over the weekend that Stevie Lee is on his way to Guildford.  Clearly someone’s been given the heads up on it, maybe not by Flames, but it’s something that’s got people talking and you would imagine Guildford fans will be quite delighted by this.

Stevie Lee’s possible future destination was revealed online without the club’s announcement as yet, but it’s got Guildford fans pleased (PHOTO: Panthers Images)

If it comes off, then it hasn’t taken anything away from the news.  The announcement will still be treated with the same level of excitement it should be.  If those putting it out is wrong, they’ll have egg on their face.

Maybe it’s time for the clubs to start working with their media, whether local or online and help get more headlines for their teams and generate more discussion.

We complain ice hockey doesn’t get enough coverage so with no pucks being hit in these summer months, what a great way to do it by keeping it going until we’re at the point we’re ready to see the players perform again.

Trust is a big part of it of course, so if teams and their local scribes have a good relationship, why not let them run a scoop and see the interest generate from there?  I guarantee when the confirmation comes, the traffic will still be high for the organisation.

After all, if we all know what’s going on, at least, those of us privileged enough to know anyway, then what’s the harm in helping get some interest and get some love going for your new guy, whoever it may be.

We’re dealing in ice hockey signing news after all.  Not state secrets.

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With the news that Shane Owen has left Fife Flyers to head to Belfast Giants, it leaves Todd Dutiaume and Jeff Hutchins with the task of finding someone equally as good to replace him.  And you wouldn’t bet against them unearthing another gem?

Since the Flyers joined the Elite League in 2011, every goalie they’ve brought in has proved to be an excellent bit of business and while there are arguments to judge some above others, their track record in bringing in players they can entrust has been nothing but a success.

Owen has some big skates to fill in Tyler Beskorowany at Belfast, but his performances for the Flyers gave everything Adam Keefe needed to go out and persuade the 29-year-old a deal in Northern Ireland was what he wanted.

Recognising it was a big position to fill, Flyers brought in Garrett Zemlak for their first ever season in the top flight and while the campaign led their only absence from the play-offs as they treaded Elite League water for the first time.

A save percentage of .889 in his season in Kirkcaldy made him an impressive figure, not to mention stopping an eye-watering 70 shots from 72 in one game against Nottingham Panthers, Zemlak looked like a goalie destined for big things.

A poor stint at Braehead Clan the following year was to come and while he performed well in covering for an injured Stephen Murphy in Belfast, Zemlak’s time in the UK was a short, but memorable one.

Garrett Zemlak was Flyers’ first goalie in the Elite League (PHOTO: Fife Flyers)

In 2012, Dutiaume and then assistant coach Danny Stewart put their thinking caps on again and came up with Bryan Pitton from Bakersfield Condors, who would be joining the club with his brother, lett winger Jason.

Bryan’s stats stood up as well in a season that brought many positives for the club after a testing first campaign, but it was a season that proved to be another rung on the ladder.

Pitton moved to Allen Americans where he won the play-offs the following year and a year in Poland with Sanok has been followed by short spells at a variety of clubs in North America.

Kevin Regan was next to go between the pipes for Fife and is so far, the only goalie to stay for two consecutive seasons, such was the impact he had on them.

Helping them to their first play-off finals weekend, Regan couldn’t quite help them to the same levels, although he performed well again in what turned into his final campaign as a professional player, opting for retirement.

Fife were in the market again in 2015 and swooped to land David Brown, who had left Hull Stingrays after the club went out of business.

David Brown was outstanding in Fife’s run to the play-off finals in 2016 (PHOTO: Fife Flyers)

Brown had ended his time in Hull with a memorable play-off quarter final performance against Braehead Clan and did the same again in what was to be his highlight for the Flyers, as they defeated their rivals in a heart-stopping last eight clash.

A .893 percentage in the league was a decent return for him, but one year was all he had in Kirkcaldy before moving on.  The fans, though, would always enjoy that quarter final with the Clan and Brown’s contribution to it.

Shane Owen then arrived for the first of his two spells, starting in 2016 when the fans had another man with an impressive beard to worship and his performances were certainly worthy of their support.

So good was Owen’s contribution the first time around, it earned him a move to Allsvanskan in Sweden to BIK Karlskoga.

His return a year later was warmly welcomed and it was clear to see what he could do and the sort of saves he could pull off hadn’t left him, despite a year that saw him flit between North America and Poland.

A three-game weekend saw him stop 148 from an incredible 153 shots which earned him an Elite League Player of the Week award set the tone and Owen was on top form once more for Flyers.

Andy Iles hasn’t played since leaving Fife in 2018 (PHOTO: Fife Flyers)

Which just leaves 2017/18 and Flyers successfully filled the post with Andy Iles, another who did so well and had a crack at the play-off finals weekend, despite his final weeks limited by injury, but he was one that was popular too.

He hasn’t played professionally since leaving Kirkcaldy last year and at this time, it’s unknown what he’s up to, but with Owen on the move again, would he be one Flyers could call back?

Stranger things have happened, but it’s an area Flyers have filled well down the years and you would expect Todd and Jeff to get this part of their recruitment right.

Whoever they’ve brought in has never let them down and with a variety of good net minders come and gone, it will be interesting to see just who will come in.

It’s an interesting puzzle for the Fife management to work on in the coming weeks.

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Most of us lead busy lives, we work hard and we play hard but sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to complete everything we want so anything that lets us make an advised choice is welcome.

This has led to a rise in comparison sites which gather together all the best deals out there and put them together letting us make a choice from one website instead of having to trawl through many sites ourselves.

There are comparison sites for why goods, cars, insurance and just about anything else you can think of, there are even comparison sites for online casinos which list the high-end online sites where you will find exciting mobile slots games that you can play when and wherever you choose.

We are all used to the comparison sites for everyday goods and services but some people are still surprised the online casinos compete with each other to be added to the lists of a casino finder website.

In fact, since technology has advanced to such an extent more casino players are turning their sights online in order to get their casino action and excitement, and although this is quite understandable as graphics are superb as are the video and audio clips that go with the games to enhance player experience, it has led to a glut of online casinos of varying quality appearing on a near daily basis.

This glut of differing quality sites led to the creation of the comparison sites not only for online slots/casinos but for all other goods and services that see a lot of traffic.

Using a dedicated team of experienced online casino and slot players all the most important points that add up to make a great casino will be checked and if all of them are there and pass rigorous testing, only then will the online site be added to the ‘A’ list.

The online slots/casino site will be checked to see if it holds a legitimate gambling licence – there are many new online gambling sites hitting our pages and not all of these are worth your time. A reputable site will eagerly display its certificate proudly in the most competitive of markets.

After checking that the site is covering all the legal requirements and is transparent the team will then check all of the fun parts of the site including games choice, bonus offers, promotional options, banking choices and then customer support.

The level of customer support a site offers is very important – having a personal touch is vital in today’s market and if there is not a team available who are friendly and who can help and offer advice then even if the games are good and the bonuses welcoming the site will not make the grade.

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THE STAGE IS SET

When the World Championships started, we knew it may have come down to this and now there’s a huge opportunity for Great Britain in Slovakia today.

The last six games have provided a harsh lesson on life at this cutthroat level and the standard expected just to stay in it, let alone go on and win it.

But, do you know what?  I’m willing to bet each and every player in the GB squad would go and do it all again if the tournament restarted from the beginning again on Tuesday, which is why today is the day for them to do something truly amazing.

Reaching the top flight was a massive achievement and Pete Russell guiding his team to Slovakia in the first place was amazing.  I would argue staying here would be even bigger.

Results have been kind to us in so far as France haven’t won either which is why this situation has presented itself later this afternoon.  It’s a chance to go out with a flourish and if GB leave Kosice with flights to Switzerland to be booked for next year, it would be incredible.

We always knew trying to go toe to toe with Canada, USA and Finland would go the way it did.  We hoped to get something from games against Germany, Slovakia and even Denmark.  It didn’t happen.

Can GB fans rally the players one last time in their biggest game? (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

Now we take on a French side who are in the first year of a new coach, a man in Philiipe Bozon who replaced Dave Henderson, who served for 15 years.  That’s the hell of a transition.

This was a team that had had hopes of bothering the top four in Group A and possibly a knockout round game.  Instead, they’re scrapping for survival with the lowest ranked team with us.

Plus they played their penultimate game last night, in a 3-0 defeat to Finland.  GB had the day off after taking on Slovakia on Saturday night so will be better rested.

It’s France’s two games in 24 hours schedule compared to GB’s two nights’ sleep and a light skate in the middle.  There’s hope there for optimism for Britain to do something that seemed impossible just a couple of weeks ago.

Let’s not kid ourselves here though.  While France haven’t bothered the knockout stages since 2014, they’ve been here since 2007 for a good reason.

They can play at this level and have been in a situation like this in the past.  Three years ago in Russia, a penalty shots win over Germany gave them two early points, but the one that saved them was a 6-2 win over eventually relegated Hungary.

In 2013, an unexpected win over Russia proved to make the difference as they finished seventh in the eight-team group, which made the difference as Austria went down.

Ben Bowns’ save from USA’s Jack Hughes has been one of the highlights from the tournament so far (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

Before that, in the 2010 championships in Germany, France failed to win in any of their preliminary group games so went forward to a four-team relegation group, where the bottom two would go down.

France survived as they beat Italy and Kazakhstan, who were both relegated and were able to continue at the top level.

The bottom line is, while this represents a great chance for GB to survive, they’re coming up against a country that are well versed in save their backsides.

It’s going to be a nervous, fraught and emotional afternoon for many of us with a vested interest in this tournament and those that want to see GB stay at this level.

If the previous performances have shown us anything, Pete Russell won’t accept anything less than full effort and hard graft.  It may be the final stop in an incredible adventure, but why should the story stop there?

Let’s hope we’re looking forward to a trip to Switzerland next year.

Is today’s game against France Pete Russell’s last as GB coach following news that he’s off to Germany? (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

AUF WIEDERSEHEN, PETE?

Since we last spoke, we got confirmation of the news that Pete Russell would be leaving Glasgow Clan after a year to take up an opportunity with DEL2 side Freiburg.

His move is one that should be welcomed from the point of view of a coach being given an opportunity in a very competitive league that could lead to other bigger routes if he’s successful.

The manner of his departure from Clan is one for others to discuss, but it’s a great move for Pete and that shouldn’t be forgotten, but you have to wonder if today’s final World Championship game with France will be his final act as the national team coach?

A new chance and opportunity may require a focus where other things have to go by the way side which could mean Pete’s road as GB coach could well be coming to an end in Kosice later today.

After all, reaching the World Championships and seeing them through it could be seen as taking the team as far as they can go, which wouldn’t be an unreasonable assumption.

Plus, after a five-year stint that has yielded two silver medals and two golds, maybe it’s time for Pete to go out on a high irrespective of how today’s game with France pans out.

I’m sure there are many who would love to see him continue on, but as his big move to Germany approaches, it’s time for a clean start and a fresh break as a new challenge begins.

If this is to be Pete’s farewell from the national team, then it’s been a great five years and hope he goes to Freiburg and builds on a reputation that continues to grow.

Colin Shields retires today as GB’s all-time top goal scorer (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

LAST CALL FOR SHIELDS

Speaking of farewells, it wouldn’t be right to not end by acknowledging the last ever professional game for Colin Shields, who hangs his skates up for good after today’s game in France.

The 39-year-old deserves every plaudit that will come his way once the championships are finished and rightly so and since he announced his retirement, it’s been clear to see from the messages posted online just well respected he is.

Let’s hope he signs off by helping GB stay in this top division and pass the torch for next year.  But at least he got to end his career by being here, not to mention winning the league and Challenge Cup one more time with Belfast Giants.

Thanks for everything, Sheds!

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