September 2021 saw Fife Flyers open their league campaign with three losses and barely a goal among them – two shut outs and a 5-1 loss in Cardiff.
September 2022 – a new look, tougher, stronger, and vastly more experienced line-up hits the ice with a real sense of purpose and direction.
And it’s safe to say there is real anticipation in the stands too as fans get excited once again about the sport and the team after a few grim campaigns.
No-one is making any bold predictions beyond aiming for the play-offs, but the opening Challenge Cup games, all played short-handed, whetted the appetite for what this team could achieve with a full roster.
The comeback win at Braehead was a real demonstration of its character, and the warm applause which came after a 5-2 home loss to Belfast Giants on Sunday was significant.
Fife Flyers: Janne Kivilahti targets goals as Flyers open league campaign
A year ago, there would have been half hearted applause, if not stony silence, after back to back losses on home ice.
This season, the fans have clearly bought into this team and like what they see in terms of its style of play, its size, and its commitment.
The start of the 2022-23 Elite League this weekend sets the stage for what could be a fascinating campaign.
Flyers are a team built to more than compete.
It has sized-up, and packed the bench with experienced players who know what’s expected in this league.
This weekend’s opening games are key in so many ways.
Opponents Manchester Storm and Coventry Blaze are two of the teams Fife need to be competing with – and beating – to hit that mid-table spot from which to push upwards, perhaps even upwards.
Last season, they managed just two wins in six starts against Blaze, while their record against Storm was just as mixed with three wins, while the three regulation time losses generated just two goals across nine periods of hockey. An overtime 5-4 defeat was also the final nail in the wafer-thin hopes Fife had of getting out of the bottom two.
This weekend marks the return of Jonas Emmerdahl, and probably Mikael Johannson, to the lineup – two big players who will add strength in depth.
Dillon Lawrence, injured in Belfast, remains day to day along with Simon Fernholm – although the big D-man is skating in practice which suggests his return to not too far away. Adding a six foot figure to the blue line could be a game changer.
In their absence, the commitment across the bench has been impressive.
Janne Kivilahti has had a sparkling start to the campaign, Shawn Cameron has speed to burn, Reece Harsch has shown he is happy to mix things up, while Reece Cochrane has had a superb opening few weeks.
Storm are clearly vulnerable. Two league games and two hefty defeats – 8-1 to Cardiff and 6-3 to Guildford – with just a 5-1 win over struggling Nottingham Panthers to show for their Challenge Cup efforts so far.
If Flyers go after them from the puck drop, this could be a rollicking game.
In contrast, Blaze have shot out of the starting blocks with three straight league wins, two of them over a Nottingham side that has already seen its GM, Omar Pacha, apologize to fans for its poor start, suggesting all is not well in the Lace City.
A trip to the Midlands is always tough, and Danny Stewart’s side will make life as hard as they can for Fife.
A four point weekend would certainly be a dream start, but of equal interest to the coaches will be how Flyers match up against the teams that have stood between them and the play-offs in recent seasons.
On the evidence so far, they will more than hold their own.
Hockey fans could be in for an exciting autumn …