Fife Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume reflected on mixed feelings of pride and dejection after his side came up short in their Elite League play-off semi-final.
Flyers hopes of reaching their first final were blown apart as they went down 4-1 to host club Nottingham Panthers in front of a sell-out 6000 crowd at the National Ice Centre.
Dutiaume admitted that it was a disappointing match for Flyers, who were second best to Panthers for most of the 60 minutes, but he also took solace in the gutsy effort it took for the team to reach finals.
Dutiaume told the Press: “It’s obviously going to sting right now, but what they’ve accomplished, and how they’ve carved out their identity these last two months and become the group they are, they really have to hold their heads high,” said Dutiaume.
“As an organisation, this is our second time here in three years. Unfortunately, we’ve stumbled at the first hurdle both years now, but it’s been an incredible learning exprience for the whole group.
“It’s an accomplishment in itself getting here, but it’s takes that something extra special to go the extra mile.”
While accepting that Panthers were better on the night, Dutiaume felt that the exertions of the previous weekened - overcoming arch-rivals Braehead Clan in an intense quarter-final - may have taken their toll on his Flyers sisde.
“Last weekend was incredibly emotional and draining on the physical side,” he said.
“That series tested both teams right to the limit. Maybe we peaked last weekend.
“There might have been a little bit of a comedown - and we tried to pick them back up - but we have to concede that the better team won on the night.
“We knew they would hit us with four lines, and they’ve been playing really well lately.
“I wouldn’t say we under-estimated the toll it was going to take on us, but they certainly exposed us a little bit in that second period.
“When you start getting mentally and physically tired, you start making mistakes, and they capitalised on our mistakes tonight.”
After a cagey first period of few chances, Flyers fell 2-0 behind in the second period to goals from David Clarke, on the powerplay, and Logan MacMilan.
Ryan Dingle pulled one back in the third, and then Michael Dorr had an effort ruled out that crossed the line after referee Tom Darnell had blown his whistle.
In the next shift, Panthers restored their two-goal advantage through Brad Moran before Evan Mosey finished off Flyers with a fourth goal near the end.
“A key moment was when our goal was called off, whether it was a goal or not, and they come down next play and score,” Dutiaume added.
“Instead of being a tied game, we’re down two goals, in the third period, in their home building, it’s very difficult to come back from that.
“They called a great time-out as well. I’ve got to give them credit. After that they sat right back and closed us right off.”
Dutiaume also made mention of the Flyers fans, who travelled to Nottingham in their hundreds in the hope of seeing their team lift silverware.
“It’s important we recognise the support we’ve been given as a group over the last month or two,” he explained.
“I had the opporunity to walk through the lobby before the game and there was a lot of upbeat and “cheery folk, and a lot of back-slapping going on and guys having a good time.
“It’s great to see everybody come down here and soak this atmosphere up, and I’m glad they had a team to cheer out on the ice.
“I’m just a little disappointed we couldn’t provide a little more drama for them, but it’s a good hockey club they’ve been watching for the second half of the season.”
Flyers will return to the ice tomorrow (Sunday) at noon for a third-place play-off match against Cardiff Devils, who were beaten 6-2 by Coventry Blaze earlier in the day.
The play-off final between Blaze and Panthers faces-off at 4.00 p.m.