Hitmen thin with stars off to NHL camps

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

On one hand, Kelly Kisio is thrilled so many Calgary Hitmen players will head to NHL camps.

It's a golden experience for junior-aged skaters to learn and hone their game.

The flipside for the Hitmen GM is the potential troubles it brings his own WHL squad.

The Hitmen regular season opens Friday, Sept. 19, and Kisio isn't sure if any or all of his team's great eight will be back in town for that night's clash with the Red Deer Rebels.

"I don't know what I'm gonna have for the first weekend," Kisio said. "We'll have enough players to play, but we'll be young if a lot of those guys don't come back (in time). At this point, I have no idea when they're coming back or who's coming back.

"It's a bit unnerving."

Six Hitmen -- Brett Sonne (St. Louis Blues), Ian Schultz (Blues), Carson McMillan (Minnesota Wild), Paul Postma (Atlanta Thrashers), Keith Seabrook (Washington Capitals) and Michael Stone (Phoenix Coyotes) -- will attend camps held by teams that drafted them. Goalie Martin Jones (Los Angeles Kings) and centre Kyle Bortis (Tampa Bay Lightning) received free-agent looks.

The Hitmen don't expect Karl Alzner (Capitals), T.J. Galiardi (Colorado Avalanche) or Ryan White (Montreal Canadiens) to return. Plus, defenceman Alex Plante hasn't reported because he wants a trade.

All in all, it leaves Kisio, head coach Dave Lowry and the Hitmen potentially in a precarious spot, even if having so many players away is a sign the team is strong and the players will be better for it.

"You're proud of the amount of guys going to camps, and that's what you want them to do," Kisio said. "The younger guys go and get a feel for where they've got to get to, and a lot of times, they're better for it. And the 20-year-olds get a chance to at least perform and do what they can to get a contract and play at a different level. But you'd like to know sooner rather than later."

The Hitmen continue the pre-season Friday in Lacombe and end it the Saturday in Airdrie.


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