Decision day for teens

ADAM WAZNY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

Across Western Canada today, 14 and 15-year-old boys will be parked in front of their computers, continuously refreshing the screen in hopes of determining where their hockey futures lie.

The Western Hockey League bantam draft gets underway this morning in Calgary, as the league members stock their reserves with players from the four western provinces, the two territories, and the western United States.

The Portland Winter Hawks pick first, with the Kelowna Rockets and the expansion Edmonton Oil Kings rounding out the top three. The Brandon Wheat Kings will have to wait until their 17th spot to make their first selection.

The consensus is this draft, unlike others in the past, has no clear favourite to go No. 1, but there are several quality 1992-born players to go around -- including several local kids who should find themselves as first- or second-round selections.

Opinions on who the top Manitoban will be seems to be split. Oakbank's Quinton Howden skated for the Springfield Ice Hawks this past winter and the 6-foot-2, 185-pound forward has WHL teams drooling over his physical readiness to jump right into the rigours of junior hockey.

The same can be said for Winnipeg's Charles Inglis. The gifted 5-foot-10 forward recently led his Sharks club to a silver medal at the AAA Western Canada Bantam Championship last month.

Howden and Inglis could be Top 10 picks. Rounding out the local top prospects list are forwards Mark Stone (Hawks), Jordan DePape (Warriors), Brooks Macek (Notre Dame); defenceman Peter Stoykewych (Monarchs), Justin Slobozian (Dauphin); and goaltender Calvin Pickard (Monarchs). Pickard's older brother Chet currently tends net for the Tri-City Americans.

A little bit of history could be made at this morning's draft, too. Among the players Portland is looking at is Luke Moffatt.

The Phoenix-born forward could become just the second American taken first overall in the WHL bantam draft. In 1999, Medicine Hat selected California-product (and current New York Ranger) Ryan Hollweg with the top pick.

Besides holding the 17th pick, the Wheat Kings will also have a high second-round pick (31st), a third- and fourth-round selection, and two fifth-round picks. Brandon selected Saskatoon's Brayden Schenn with its first pick last spring.

SMART PLAYER: Wheat Kings defenceman Keith Aulie, 17, was named the WHL's Scholastic Player of the Year at the league's award luncheon yesterday. The Saskatchewan-born rearguard is just the fifth Wheatie to pick up the honour.


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