In-form Edinburgh Capitals travel to Kirkcaldy tomorrow evening for the first of two weekend Elite League ice hockey matches against fierce rivals Fife Flyers.
A 7-1 Forth derby mauling the last time Edinburgh played at Fife Ice Arena – described as “dire” by Capitals performance bench coach Jock Hay – was, perversely, the boot up the backside the Caps required to kick-start their season.
Since then, Edinburgh have won seven out of nine games, a run which has catapulted them into sixth place in the league. With only four games remaining, Caps are in prime position to secure their first play-off appearance in three years.
Hay, whose side face Flyers in the return match at Murrayfield on Sunday (face-off 6pm), reflected: “It was said in the locker room straight after the game that this was not on, the fans deserved better, and that we were going to make it up to them.
“It simply wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t even that Fife played great, we were simply dire. A performance like that couldn’t be accepted against anybody, never mind our local rivals.
“It made the guys realise that they need to show up on the ice not just for every game, but for every shift, and that you can’t take any time out or you’re going to get punished. It’s something that everyone really seems to have taken on board.
“Since that result, the boys have put in some superb performances, and we can really take confidence from the way we’ve been playing.”
Recent wins over Erhardt Conference teams, Coventry Blaze, Sheffield Steelers, and last Sunday’s 3-2 victory over second-place Belfast Giants may have put the Edinburgh side in a strong position, but for Hay, the play-off push, which has been the club’s aim since the first puck was dropped last September, was always likely to come down to the season’s final four games, all against Gardiner Conference opposition.
He said: “It was always going to come down to these four Conference games. We’ve still to qualify and these games against Fife and next weekend against Dundee will determine whether we get into the play-offs or not, regardless of our recent success. Nothing’s changed; everything’s riding on these next two weekends.”
With only three points between sixth and last place, seventh-place Fife missed a chance to move level on points with Edinburgh after a midweek road loss to Braehead Clan which saw the Glasgow outfit vault from last to eighth. While Fife have struggled away from home all season, their home form has been mightily impressive, with 19 wins from 26 games.
Hay, who has played and coached ice hockey in Edinburgh in a career spanning more than 30 years, said: “A big factor is that they have quite a close rink, in that the crowd is almost right on top of you. It can be a great atmosphere which hopefully our guys will feed off this time, rather than go back into their shells and not perform.
“At home, the crowd at Murrayfield have been more vocal this season, and the atmosphere’s been much better, but that’s because the guys on the ice are giving them something to shout about. Fife will bring over a big support, so I imagine it will be pretty noisy in both rinks this weekend.
“It’s going to be an exciting two nights of hockey; in fact it doesn’t get any better than this. These are not run-of-the-mill league games, everything’s at stake.
“Essentially the play-offs have already started for both teams, and for whoever doesn’t come out on top tomorrow, they have the chance for instant revenge on Sunday.”
Edinburgh expect to be close to full strength. Player-coach Richard Hartmann missed the majority of the Belfast game after suffering a shoulder injury, but the experienced Slovakian is set to make a game-day decision as to whether or not he is fit enough to play.