A season which promised so much is in danger of crumbling to dust for Braehead Clan.
February has been a brutal month, and it isn’t over yet for a hockey team desperately trying to find the pause button and regroup at a time when the sport becomes a whirlwind of activity and momentum.
The stats are horrendous, but they only tell part of Braehead’s story.
A podcast featuring some astonishing remarks by a key player on a departing team-mate shone a light into corners of the dressing-room normally well out of bounds to fans.
And, there are the increasingly blunt, critical post-game assessments to the media - ‘abysmal’ and ‘pretty embarrassing’ might have caught the headlines, but it was the withering condemnation of players not stepping up to cover for injured buddies which contained the real sting.
And when your director of operations then joins those media briefings, you can see the pressure clinging like condensation on the plexi,
On Saturday, the fans in a capacity crowd booed as Fife Flyers skated to a 5-1 win..
Coach Ryan Finnerty didn’t seek to blame them - instead his assessment of his own team was withering.
‘’When your fan base walks out and boos you have to take a long hard look at yourself. ’We lost 5-1. It could have been 9-1.’’
The message to the dressing-room that the performance was unacceptable and embarrassing - the coach’s own words - was re-inforced by Gareth Chalmers, operations director who spoke of it being ‘’imperative’’ that the team wins the conference title.
It may well, but the next night, Clan lost 2-1 in Dundee, and tumbled to third, six points behind leaders Fife with three games in hand.
The best Clan can do is match Flyers’ tally. For a team that once had seven games in hand and simply had to canter to the title, that’s a spectacular collapse.
The title is still in sight, but the route to it has become horrendously messy.
In the league, Clan are on a four-loss streak - the worst of the top eight clubs - are down to fourth and could easily finish further back in the standings unless the team snaps back into its groove. The ‘‘it’s Braehead title’’ talk which echoed round the rinks a few weekends ago has simply stopped.
In February Clan have managed one win in seven. and scored just one goal in each of its last four games.
The loss of key players such as Matt Keith, Scott Pitt and Matt Haywood has been profound, but every club in the EIHL has endured similar situations without their season becoming a train-wreck.
Given that backdrop, netminder Chris Holt’s remarkable, and ill-advised broadcast on the trading of team-mate Chris Bruton becomes even more fascinating.
The Purple Army Podcast is an ‘Off The Ball’ style show with lots of banter, but for a club which runs a highly professional PR operation, his freewheeling views must have officials listening in disbelief.
A regular on the show, and an engaging guy to listen to, he spoke of how Bruton was ‘’cut out like the cancer, and when he left we felt we were in remission’’ adding: ‘’We would have traded him for a bag of pucks and been happy with what we got back.’’
The cancer analogy was grim enough to make you wince , but it’s hard to recall a single hockey players speaking in such searing terms about a schism behind the scenes.
Holt spoke of the dressing-room being ‘’like a family - a 20-man band of brothers’’ but how the unwritten code that what happens in the room, stays in the room could no longer apply to Bruton; ‘’you never put yourself above the group … we were waiting for the day to get rid of him … ‘’
At no time was Holt pushed to quantify any of his remarks - or his assertion it ‘’probably should have happened sooner’’ which could be construed as direct criticism of his own coach and management team.
Bruton’s own podcast debut with new club, Coventry Blaze, saw him asked to reply.
His approach was the polar opposite of Holt’s shoot from the hip. He was measured - he could be heard unfolding the paper containing his response - but there was no doubting he was angry.
He spoke of being ‘’raised with far too much class and integrity to get into public bantering’’ and adhered to the code Holt flagged up, declining to add fuel to a fire which may yet torch Clan’s ambitions for season 2015-16, save for noting Clan’s run of five losses from six since he left.
That’s now six from seven. A potentially season-stoning stat.
The Bruton/Holt spat may be just two hockey players who didn’t gel - it happens in every season in dressing-room - or it could be symptomatic of something much deeper. Listen to Bruton talking about how it’s good to now be in a dressing room of eight or nine guys’’going to school’’ and you get an inkling of of how the culture in Braehead was different. Not necessarily wrong - just different.
Either way, its timing within the context of a shattering month of losses was deeply damaging.
The official line from Braehead immediately after a third pointless weekend was a short video of the team in training at an empty Braehead.
They were being drilled, up and down the ice. Not a single puck in sight.
That’s a pretty clear message to the players.
They know what they have to do when Belfast and Nottingham visit this weekend.
The organisation and the fans expect. They must now deliver before the lights go out on this season.