Hitmen will age gracefully

CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:29 AM ET

With Hockey Canada approving new age rules and import quotas for junior hockey, Western Hockey League players might get a little older over the next couple seasons.

Calgary Hitmen GM/co-coach Kelly Kisio can live with the fact he'll only be able to field four 16-year-olds next season and three the following year.

"I don't mind the league getting older at all. I think it's probably better," said Kisio."Now you watch your spots when you put the 16-year-olds on if you're afraid of the size difference. But this year, we were never afraid of putting our young guys out there."

Last season, the Hitmen went with five rookies in Ryan White, Keegan Dansereau, Karl Alzner, Isaac Reid and backup netminder Daniel Spence, all of whom made the team out of training camp. Because of injuries, Alzner and Dansereau logged a lot of ice time last season. But that number falls to three in 2006-07 with a cap of 40 16-year-olds per junior league.

Hockey Canada officials also voted this week to cut the number of imports in the CHL from two to one per team before the 2007-08 season, which doesn't bother Kisio either.

"A lot of times, it's good for one guy to have another guy to chum with and talk to but it'll be good for one guy to integrate and talk to the other players," said Kisio. "We haven't had a great deal of luck with two at one time anyways, so there's good and bad for both sides. It allows another Canadian kid to play."

Hockey Canada said the reason behind the sweeping changes is to bolster the strength of midget triple-A leagues in Canada, which regularly lose good, young players to the major-junior ranks.

But the changes have yet to be approved by the CHL, noted Red Deer Rebels coach and GM Brent Sutter, adding the age limit doesn't help clubs that are in rebuilding mode.

"There should never be a limit on 16-year-olds," Sutter told the Red Deer Advocate.

"If you're a team that's rebuilding and you want to use four 16-year-olds, you should be allowed to do that."

Sutter would prefer to see a rule mandating any 16-year-old on a major-junior roster be required to play a minimum of 40 to 50 games in a season.

"If they're going to be on your team, they can't sit in the stands. They have to play," said Sutter.

Among other rulings last week, Hockey Canada stated 15-year-olds shall not be permitted to register and play as affiliated players with junior teams unless the player believes he is "exceptional." Then that player can appeal to compete in major-junior hockey under an exceptional player provision.


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