If Flames thought 96-97 had hurt they had no idea of the ride this season was to bring. After the euphoria of the previous season, as the most successful in Flames’ history, came the anti-climax of an injury-rocked season. Stan Marple had his team in place by the end of May, leaving other coaches in the BNL to follow his lead. Championship experience was a key ingredient but when impact players left the squad, alarm bells could be heard faintly amongst supporters.
That said, on paper the resulting 98-99 team was more talented offensively- if not as complete as past teams. Returning Albertan’s Kirk Humphreys, Pete Kasowski and Barcley Pearce were the forwards who stole most of the glory with their lightning speed, fancy goals and ingenious passes, while new comers Scott Stephenson and Adrian Lomonaco joined Ryan Campbell up front, all were workhorses who made things happen every game. In October, American Derek DeCosty returned to the fold from an injury prone year at Bracknell.
There was a change in the Management structure when Valerie Vassie had to leave and return to Canada, her place being taken by Malcolm Norman who had retired from 38 years in Banking.
After a start to the league that left Flames in contention for honours, Joe Johnston left to make way for Robin Davison another former Swindon player. Flames captured the Benson and Hedges Plate in a thrilling win (4-3) over Telford Tigers, but things began to go wrong as they approached the leagues holiday break, they were matched against Peterborough Pirates in the semi-final of the Christmas Cup. The first leg took place on January 9 and anyone close to the Flames will tell you that was the night their upcoming title chances ended. A controversial season-ending ankle injury to starting netminder Jamey Organ helped Flames crash out of the cup competition, sparking disciplinary investigations and appeals that stretched into late February. Organ required pins and screws in his ankle to help mend the break. Reports of the incident itself made a name for Peterborough Pirate Nathan Rempel, for all the wrong reasons. As the debate continued a prolonged search for a replacement goalie began and Marple’s grip on the BNL title loosened game-by-game as vital points were dropped.
Community Spirit and fund raising continued this season, as Jamie Organ and Pete Kasowski launched their “Flames in the Kitchen” cookbook and the infamous Canadian delicacy, Porgies in aid of Disability Challenge. Toys were also gathered for County Sounds’ Christmas Toy Appeal. Jamie Organ was on hand to present the Child of Achievement award, to Joe Easton from Bramley, and enforcer Mark Pallister was even seen sporting a red nose for Comic Relief! By the end of season the tally of children to be visited by the Drug Freeze programme had reached the 25,000 mark, pulling in even more accolades for the team.
Additions to the squad by signing deadline ensured that Flames were contenders in the fresh start that is the playoffs - Mark McCoy and Mark Pallister brought notable experience while former Solihull netminder Jarkko Kortesoja saw out the season between the pipes. Yet even with their contribution, a third place league finish was all Flames could muster.
The Championship weekend provided a chance to salvage some success, although almost predictably, the unpredictable happened – Flames lost to the under-dog in the semi final. Enthusiastic Humphreys put his body on the line one too many times and dislocated his shoulder in play off semi’s. He left the ice for the final time; the injury leaving him with little feeling and no strength in his arm meant the end of his playing career.
The summer of 1999 saw the unexpected retirement of mainstay defence man Terry Kurtenbach, moving home to Canada with his wife Julie. Terry was at the top of his game and had just completed his 13th season in Britain, moving from defence to forward during the injury problems. During his stay here he served at Nottingham and Romford helping with the junior developments at both teams, as well as featuring in the GB team.