RAPID CITY, S.D. -- After the Komets lost 16 of their first 21 games and remained in last place among the CHL's 18 teams until February, coach Al Sims was pleased with the way his players fought until the end.
And he wanted them to know it.
"I'm very proud of our team and everyone should hold their head up high in that locker room," Sims said, after the Komets lost 6-1 on Sunday night and were ousted from the best-of-five Turner Conference semifinals 3-2 by the Rapid City Rush.
"Everyone had us written off against Bloomington, that they would knock us off in the playoffs. We got by them (in a sweep), and we played the best team in our conference and took them to five games. We just ran out of miracles at the end."
The Komets came into Sunday with an 8-0 record in games which they could have been eliminated dating back to 2008, when they won the first of three straight IHL championships.
They joined the CHL last summer and wound up with a 31-27-8 regular-season record and the sixth seed in the Turner Conference before bowing out to the top-seeded Rush.
But they made several personnel changes to turn things around this season and showed their usual heart when down. After losing the first two games of the series, and trailing by three goals midway through Game 3, they won that overtime game 5-4 and took Game 4 at Memorial Coliseum 4-1.
But home-ice advantage was big Sunday, as the Rush scored the first three goals in front of 4,399 raucous fans on Easter at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
"I think (home ice) is big," Sims said of something had in Game 7s against Port Huron in 2008 and 2010. "They get great crowds here. We get great crowds. Both teams are pretty dominant on home ice, and it's tough to win in this building. You've got to get out quickly, get the first goal and try to lead after the first period. You can't give them a chance to get ahead of you in this building, or it's very difficult to come back."
Captain Colin Chaulk agreed.
"The home team has the advantage at home, in my opinion. I know history shows that the home team doesn't have the advantage a lot of the time, but our history shows we have the advantage on home ice," he said.
"We put ourselves behind the eight-ball with our play in the regular season. Yeah, we played better in the second half, but that's why you play hard in the regular season to position yourself for home-ice advantage. It didn't help to have to travel out here twice. It's a loud building. They have great fans. They're energetic. It definitely helps you when everyone's cheering."
The Komets couldn't help but feel that luck wasn't on their side, though. Pucks hopped over their sticks. Rebounds went the Rush's way. Two goals the Komets thought they had scored were ruled not to have entered the net by referee Jon McIsaac. And even one Rush goal was scored after the puck sailed 20 to 40 feet into the air and caromed off a crowd of players before getting past goalie Kevin Reiter.
"We got off to a bad start," left wing P.C. Drouin said. "It seemed like most of the series, when they got the bounces, they scored. They created the bounces, but it seemed like every rebound wound up on the tape (of their sticks) and at an open net (Sunday). The puck goes 20 feet in the air and falls down right into our net, things like that. I thought maybe we could come back again, but you've got to get some breaks and we never did."