After a quarter century of competition, and 19 trophies along the way, the Flames committed to possibly the biggest challenge in organisational history by making the step up to the top flight in time for the 2017-2018 campaign. Acceptance as a member club by the Elite League was exciting, but maybe even anxiety provoking for the fan base. A degree of continuity remained with the re-signing of forwards Andy Mckinney, who eventually made a mid-season transfer to Manchester, and Ben Campbell as well as Defenceman Jez Lundin, Kevin Phillips and Sam Godfrey. Mike Will returned in goal to round out the only 6 players who had experience in Flames colours ahead of the new campaign. The sweeping changes to staff meant that the opening day team list had more than a dozen new names before further newbies were added once the campaign got underway. The adjustments represented the single largest roster turnover from one season to the next in the entire 25 year existence of the club.
New forwards to the team included GB national team members Ben Davies and Liam Stewart. They were joined by Canadian skaters Ian Watters, John Dunbar, Rhett Rachinski, Charles Wells, Kruise Reddick, and Brett Ferguson along with Swedish wingers Mikael Lidhammar and David Lillieström Karlsson; the latter departing just a few games in with a career closing concussion. In November, Geoff Walker was added to the up front mix. At the back, Canadians Jesse Craige and Brennan Yadlowski made up part of the Defensive group completed by Slovakian blueliner Tomas Nechala and Swedish counterpart Calle Ackered. British-Canadian Adam Jones also joined the side, but his stay was relatively short-lived. In January the club bolstered depth at the position with American Mike Krieg.
Canadian netminder Brian Stewart began the season between the pipes but an early injury saw him sidelined for more than 4 months, and Spectrum’s tenants quickly added Chris Carrozzi to what became the goaltending trio.
Perhaps anxiety hit its peak on the weekend of September 2nd and 3rd when the Flames opened competition with a couple of challenge matches, home and away to Milton Keynes Lightning; the league’s other expansion member. Despite falling 3-1 on both nights, the least Surrey’s side had done was demonstrate a level of competitiveness worthy of Elite League standard, and from there competition began for real.
After an opening season loss at Belfast Giants on September 9th, the historical 1st Elite League win, other than BNL-Elite Crossover competition back in 2004-2005, came on Sunday September 10th on Spectrum ice. With a 1 goal lead on the reigning League and Cup champion Cardiff Devils, 3 Flames strikes in the opening 10 minutes of the final period paved the way for the first success with an 8-4 Cup win. The Flames would go on to earn an advanced round berth, eventually playing a 2 game aggregate quarter final set against the Devils who eliminated the Flames from further Cup play in early January.
September league play was a solid learning stretch for the Flames who fell in 4 straight games to league powerhouses Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester, but they didn’t go away totally empty handed; instead competing well enough to gather 3 points from the 4 defeats. They opened October with a 4 game winning streak, and points in 7 of 8 games for the month capped a comfortable opening run as a member club.
Through the remainder of the schedule, the Flames had many ups and downs, and many firsts including a first win against every single team in the league; a cycle completed fully on home ice on Sunday February 11th when Ian Watters scored 3 times in the last period to break up a 1-1 tie and help lift the club to a 4-2 win over Sheffield Steelers who had earlier delivered a combined 14-4 defeat across the first pair of meetings between the sides. The Flames closed the regular schedule with wins against Dundee, Braehead and Coventry to secure a 30 win campaign and good form ahead of the Playoffs.
The 2 game aggregate goal Playoff quarter final series was set with 3rd place Sheffield Steelers. All that was left to do was see if the club could advance to the Playoff finals. For about 52 minutes of the opening leg on the road, that objective looked realistic. The Flames carried a 2-1 lead into the final 8 minutes, but a late collapse, and 4 quick Steelers goals, had the Yorkshire team holding a 5-2 margin heading back to Spectrum for the closing game. The Steelers added on a couple more early in Leg 2 to grab a commanding 5 goal aggregate advantage and had the series, and a Flames Playoff final berth, all but out of reach. However, as the plucky Surrey side had done all season, they played to the final whistle. In the end, despite not overcoming the overall deficit, 3 unanswered 3rd period goals did give Spectrum’s men a 5-4 win to split the weekend series. Despite failing to move on to the Nottingham Final 4 weekend, a 6th place top half league finish, a tie for the conference lead, as well Challenge Cup and Playoff Quarter Final advancements will always be looked on as a wildly successful opening Elite League term.