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Tough decisions on horizon

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Heading into the playoffs, Komets general manager David Franke had promised there would be mass changes made to his team before next season, in an attempt to get a younger and faster lineup more conducive to playing in the CHL.

But then the Komets were full of surprises, sweeping the higher-seeded Bloomington PrairieThunder and taking the CHL-champion Rapid City Rush to a decisive fifth game before the season came to a close Sunday at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Now the Komets' future is a bit murkier.

"We'll figure that out – what we're going to do – as time goes on," Franke said.

The Komets were understandably leery of making make any declarations after the bitter 6-1 season-ending loss, which gave the Rush a 3-2 victory in the best-of-five Turner Conference semifinals. It was the first postseason series loss for the Komets since 2007 – they won three straight IHL championships before this season – and maybe this group still has something to offer.

After losing the first two games to the Rush, and trailing by three goals midway through Game 3 at Memorial Coliseum, the Komets won 5-4 in overtime and 4-1 in Game 4 before Sunday's stinker.

"We need time to digest it and meet on it, meet with every person, and talk to every player, see what they thought of their season and what they're up to for next year," said coach Al Sims, who was proud of the late-season effort, after his team was in last place until February. "There are a lot of things that have to go down before we start making personnel decisions."

With Odessa going to the junior-level North American Hockey League, and several other teams exploring moves, the Komets must first decide if the CHL is still the right fit for them. Dayton is the only team within four hours drive.

Regardless of where the Komets play, several personnel changes are likely in store. Defenseman Guy Dupuis, 40, and left wing P.C. Drouin, 37, are considering retirement. And players such as Mathieu Curadeau, Sean O'Connor and Derek Patrosso performed below expectations.

"I don't want to make any decisions right now. I'm planning on playing, but right now the taste of defeat doesn't taste very good," said Drouin, who along with Sims and captain Colin Chaulk, is under contact for next season.

The Komets would like to get more youth and speed. Several players also underperformed, a reason the team lost 16 of its first 21 games before winding up 31-27-8 for the sixth best record in the Turner Conference, after the regular season.

"The ownership and coaching staff have to take a week or two to think – and they normally do – to assess what direction they want to go," Chaulk said. "But there are changes that need to be made. I'm 34 years old. Let's face it, how much longer can I play? I think I'm still playing well and am an impact player, but we definitely need to get some new faces in here and they know that."

Chaulk, who returned from playing in Italy midway through the season, would like to be involved in the personnel decisions, if possible.

"It's obvious to everybody what the team was lacking," he said, referring to consistency and speed. "We were able to do it in spurts. But the players have to play well and contribute every night, which a lot of us didn't do. Management has to do their job and make the team based on the league. I don't think this is a better league (than the IHL), but it's more of a skating league. I wouldn't say it's a lot faster, but players skate more. They move their feet more and are skating and skating because of the (crackdown) on stick-work, the obstruction being out."

The players are cognizant tough decisions are on the horizon.

"Sometimes, the truth hurts," Chaulk said. "But at least when you get the truth, you seem to get over it quicker as opposed to when you're misled or it's sugarcoated."

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at jcohn@jg.net.

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