Young 'N' the restless

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

The babies on the blueline are prepared for their baptism by fire.

OK, 'babies' might be a stretch.

Especially when the trio of youngsters -- Alex Plante, Justin Falk and Karl Alzner -- average about 6-ft. 3-in.

But their WHL careers are certainly in their infancy.

Plante, still just 15 years old, played in eight regular-season games. Falk dressed for only four, while Alzner, who spent the entire year in Calgary, is a veritable veteran with 66 games under his belt.

The Hitmen's second-round pick in last summer's bantam draft, Plante came to town to get a taste of what the WHL playoffs are like.

But with Darryl Yacboski nursing a bad shoulder, making him a question mark for tomorrow's playoff opener in Lethbridge (7 p.m., Enmax Centre), Plante's been thrown into the fire.

And he's loving every second of it.

"It's fun," the 6-ft. 2-in., 190-pounder says.

"The guys have been great, I've been feeding off all of them. And the fans have obviously been great.

"It took a while to get used to the speed and strength but things are getting better every game.

"I'm just living in the moment right now."

In the pre-season, the Hitmen were ranked by The Hockey News as the No. 3 team in the nation -- due largely in part to a towering defence led by first-round draft picks Jeff Schultz and the since-traded Andy Rogers, as well as Brett Carson.

Carson was in a similar situation as the kids a few years ago when he took a regular shift on the back end.

He doesn't think the the club's youthful blueline will be its Achilles heel against the high-powered Lethbridge Hurricanes.

"We've got a pretty young D corp. right now, especially if we're missing Yacboski," says Carson.

"But guys like Alzner and Plante are playing really well for us.

"Obviously they don't have much experience but they've stepped in and played well. They're both bigger guys, so they can use that to their advantage."

Sophomore Dustin Kohn, selected as the club's top defenceman during the regular season, can't get over how quickly he's gone from a fresh-faced freshman to a grizzled vet.

"I'm in my second year and I'm one of the older guys," says Kohn, shaking his head.

Not many WHL playoff teams will dress a 15-year-old and two 16-year-olds on the blueline.

But Kohn said all three have held their own in the limited action they've seen so far.

"I don't think it's a worry for us," Kohn says.

"In the games they've been up here, they've shown they can play at this level.

"We have three solid pairings we can throw out there against anyone.

"Lethbridge has fast, speedy guys so it's going to be a challenge but it'll be a welcomed one."

Kohn could play a major role in any success the Hitmen experience.

The smooth-skating 18-year-old was fourth on the club with 43 points, including a team-high 35 assists.

With goals expected to be at a premium, any offence Kohn can generate would be a huge bonus.

"I want to help out offensively by jumping into the play," he says.

"There are going to be some tight games so anything I can contribute will be appreciated by the forwards."


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