Ready the red light

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

The Calgary Hitmen may need a new team bus -- a double decker. GM/head coach Kelly Kisio still has 27 players on the roster as his club prepares to open the season tomorrow night against the Red Deer Rebels (7 p.m., The 'Dome, Fan 960).

"You're either going to play yourself into a position or play yourself out," Kisio said of a half-dozen players on the bubble.

"Everybody is probably going to get a chance to play and see what they can do."

Kisio said it could be a week or two before he decides on a final lineup.

There's a couple of reasons for the bloated roster.

Swedish imports Freddie Pettersson (Edmonton Oilers) and Robin Figren (New York Islanders) have not yet returned from NHL camps. Even when Pettersson does come back, he'll be sidelined 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL.

The goaltending situation has failed to sort itself out. There's still three 'tenders in town with veteran Daniel Spence expected to get the nod as the starter.

But if 19-year-old Brant Miller ends up making the long-term roster, it won't be as a backup. Rookie Marty Jones would likely secure the second spot if Miller wrestles the starting job away from Spence.

The Hitmen will also begin the season with four overagers -- one more than the legal limit. But Kisio won't have to decide by the cut-down date (Oct. 10) because defenceman Dylan Yeo (wrist) will start the season on the IR.

Winger Brodie Dupont, who just returned from camp with the New York Rangers, said he found the Hitmen dressing room a little more crowded than usual.

"I noticed that when I got back," Dupont said. "But when the players are playing well, it's a lot harder to make cuts."

The roster may be as clear as mud but one thing is certain: The Hitmen will be a lot more offensive this season.

Dupont, who tied for the team scoring lead with Ryan White in '05-06, should score 40-50 goals this season.

"It's a big difference," Dupont said of the club's offence maturing. "We're a lot quicker up front and we're going to score more goals.

"Hopefully, we get it rolling because it's a lot more fun scoring goals than winning games 1-0 and 2-1."

And there's no Justin Pogge to keep those 2-1 wins from becoming 4-2 losses.

Wins will be at a premium in the Central Division, which kicked out Swift Current in favour of the Kootenay Ice. Throw in a much-improved Rebels team and an emerging threat in the Lethbridge Hurricanes and the Central won't be another two-horse race between Calgary and Medicine Hat.

"Yeah, especially when you sneak Kootenay into our division," Dupont said. "It's not going to be easy to make the playoffs."

The march for the post season begins tonight at the 'Dome and Dupont can't wait to get to work.

"From the start of camp, you look forward to this day," said Dupont, who put up 53 points last season.

"I haven't played a game with the Hitmen yet (this spring) and I'm excited to get back out in front of our crowd."

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

MVP: LW Brodie Dupont, C Ryan White

Offensive sparkplug: LW Fred Pettersson

Breakout player: C Brett Sonne

Under the microscope: G Daniel Spence

X factor: RW Matt Isbister

Biggest: D Alex Plante (6-ft. 5-in., 220 lb.)

Smallest: RW Brandon Kozun (5-ft. 7-in., 155 lb.)


Photos