D-men bad in black

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

White didn't work. So black has to be better.

Prior to last year's playoffs, the Hitmen collectively dyed their hair blond. The new 'dos didn't seem to help, as Red Deer skated away with a seven-game, first-round victory.

This year, it's all about black. The fans are being asked to become a Sea of Black. And a few of the players decided to get in on the fun.

Defencemen Brett Carson, Dustin Kohn and Karl Alzner dyed their hair black last week.

"The last couple of years, I went blond for playoffs and I didn't go too far," Carson said.

"This year, hopefully the black will change that. We were bored one day so we decided to change it up. I helped Karl out in the back and he helped me, so we didn't miss any spots.

"I kind of like it."

While the Hitmen have been Ryan Getzlaf's team for the past 2 1/2 seasons, the club has been built around its towering defenceman for even longer. Carson, Jeff Schultz and the since-traded Andy Rogers took regular shifts as 16-year-olds in 2002-03.

And now, even with the squad's steadiest defender, Darryl Yacboski, watching from the pressbox with a shoulder injury, it's time for the highly touted blueline brigade to make its mark in the post-season.

"We're pretty young back there but, over the course of the season, I think everybody got enough experience," Carson said.

"We played our younger guys like Alzner back there and he's playing as well as any one of us. But every guy is reliable so I think it'll be a big reason why we'll go far in the playoffs."

Hitmen fans have been waiting a few years for the blueline corps to mature. But just when the mainstays have reached their junior-hockey prime, a new crop of youngsters has arrived. And Calgary's defence is once again considered young and inexperienced.

Schultz said the rookies -- Alzner and Alex Plante -- have looked good in the playoffs.

"There's a couple of younger guys coming in and getting experience for the future," Schultz said. "I think the top four guys were pretty solid during the first two games and we just want to carry that on."

It doesn't take long for the student to become the teacher in junior hockey. Carson said the vets, who log most of the ice time, are doing whatever they can to assist the newcomers.

"That's the process of the WHL," Carson said. "We're the leaders now and we know how the younger guys are feeling."

Head coach/GM Kelly Kisio said the franchise won't be forced to rebuild its blueline for a while.

"I think we'll be strong on defence for the next few years," Kisio said. "We've got a few guys coming in here and some others who aren't here yet. We worked a lot with our D this year and our goals-against was the lowest it's been in a long time."

The Hitmen surrendered 183 goals this season, the stingiest total since giving up 182 in 1999-2000. And the club's big blueliners will need to be at their best over the next week if Calgary hopes to escape the first round.


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