Dominating defence gives Hitmen a shot

CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

Calgary Hitmen netminder Justin Pogge can't help but get a little excited talking about the defence corps in front of him this year.

That's because the WHL team, on paper at least, should boast one of the best blueline corps in the league, with four of the nine having been drafted by NHL teams.

In addition, each Hitmen rearguard, save for Curtis Kelner, played with the team last season. Pogge said with a year of chemistry already under their belts, the Hitmen should be solid on the back end.

"We've got a lot of young guys with experience from the playoffs last year, then we've got the older guys who are coming back from NHL camps and we had all of last season to gel, so this season I think it's going to be a really good defence," said Pogge, who returned to Hitmen practice yesterday after being sent back from Toronto Maple Leafs training camp.

Last year, the Hitmen gave up 183 goals against, seventh fewest in the league, so the foundation's pretty solid, especially with Pogge between the pipes for a full season after coming to the Stampede City from Prince George at the trade deadline last year.

Calgary's defence is also big, averaging 6 ft. 2 in. and weighing 206.6 lb.

Rugged Darryl Yacboski, back from off-season shoulder surgery, and Brett Carson, both of whom are 20-year-olds, lead the way in seniority.

Towering Jeff Schultz, stout Dylan Yeo, smooth-skating Dustin Kohn and sophomore Karl Alzner round out the blueline brigade's veterans, while Justin Falk, Alex Plante and Kelner are all officially WHL rookies.

But Plante, a 6-ft. 4-in., 210-pounder, who turned 16 in May, and Falk, another giant at 6 ft. 5 in., 205 lb., both cut their teeth in last year's playoff run with plenty of ice time thanks to injuries to Yacboski and Carson.

Plante, who was only 15 when the Hitmen bowed out of the playoffs with a Game 7 loss against Brandon in the second round, impressed everybody with his poise and take-no-prisoners attitude on the ice.

"He's only going to get better with every game," noted Pogge. "He's really good as it is and he's only going to get better. I mean he's not taking any steps backward, that's for sure."

Like Pogge, Alzner, who played in 66 games as a rookie in 2004-05, is looking forward to seeing how good the rearguards will be this season.

"I thought we were pretty solid last year. Now we've got all the guys back, plus a year, so I think we're going to have one of the more solid d-corps, plus a proven goalie, in the league this year," said Alzner, who isn't eligible for the NHL draft until 2007. "We've got lots of young but really talented forwards and I think we'll be a solid team."

And don't forget, defence wins championships.


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