Opportunity knocks

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 5:26 PM ET

No one likes being a rookie.

They get picked on and made fun of by the vets. They get last choice of seats on the bus and they likely have to load all of the gear, too.

But this is a good year to be a freshman at the Calgary Hitmen camp.

The Hitmen will be looking for about a half dozen new bodies, a higher number than usual, when rookie camp kicks off this morning at the Don Hartman Northeast Sportsplex.

GM/head coach Kelly Kisio said the opportunity is there for the kids who want it most.

"We're looking for five or six players," Kisio said, adding he didn't need to tell the youngsters they're in an enviable position.

"The kids are knowledgable enough. They know there are spots open and how many guys have left the team.

"A lot of times, that's how you get some guys at your camp. They'll come because there's spots open."

The goaltending picture, barring a major surprise, is already locked up with starter Justin Pogge and backup Daniel Spence returning.

Same thing for the defence, with eight regulars coming back -- including rookies Alex Plante, a 15-year-old who suited up in the playoffs last spring, and Justin Falk.

But it's wide open up front with the club losing its entire top two lines. The half dozen graduated veterans accounted for more than half of the team's 200 goals in 2004-05.

"We had a young crop of rookies last year who will be so-called veterans this year at 17," Kisio said. "We have a great returning group of defencmen and goaltenders. And our young guys up front will have to score by committee. It'll have to be a group effort.

"I think our Europeans will be good players this year so they'll help."

Czech centre Lukas Vantuch arrived in town Wednesday and Swedish winger Fredrik Pettersson touches down today. Both are expected to report with the rest of the vets when main camp kicks off Sunday.

Brett Sonne, the club's first-round pick in the 2004 bantam draft, is a virtual lock to nail down one of the open spots, leaving at least five openings.

"Sonne and Plante will be there," Kisio said. "And there's some other guys we've invited who have a chance to make the team and play a lot of minutes."

Freshman Jason Gregoire, a fourth-round selection last year, could be seen as a good bet to land another spot after a solid year in Manitoba's triple-A midget league. Dylan Bellmore, 17, had a strong camp last year and was one of the final cuts. He'll be expected to compete for a job as well.

Kisio and the scouting staff will make their first round of cuts Saturday.

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ICE CHIPS: The Hitmen announced they will open up their pre-season schedule Sept. 6 against Red Deer in Airdrie. From there, Calgary plays Sept. 9 in Medicine Hat, Sept. 11 at Centennial Arena vs. Kootenay, Sept. 14 against Red Deer in Sylvan Lake and Sept. 16 also against the Rebels in Lacombe.


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