SUN Hockey Pool

Not many holes to plug

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

The depth chart has it all in black and white for Tomi Maki.

Fact is, the Calgary Flames aren't only pretty much set with their defence corps, it's practically the same situation among the forwards.

There aren't many holes to be filled by rookies, if any at all, yet the 22-year-old from Finland vows to do his best to push himself into the big-league roster over the coming month.

"This is a big challenge for me," said Maki, who arrived in the Stampede City last week to become acclimatized before training camp opens today. "I definitely want to make the team.

"I feel myself getting better every year and want to get better, so that's why I'm here."

Maki and the other prospects will gather today at the Saddledome for fitness testing. The first on-ice session will be tomorrow morning at Max Bell Centre.

Veterans report Monday, hit the ice the next day at the Don Hartman Northeast Sportsplex and the first pre-season game will be Sept. 16 in Edmonton.

The club's fourth-round choice from the 2001 draft, 108th overall, Maki decided to make the big move across the Atlantic. He spent the last three seasons playing for Jokerit Helsinki in his homeland's top league.

He figures those campaigns have him as prepared as possible for the North American game.

"I've been growing up and learned what it's like to play against men, big guys. It's been great for me," said the 6-ft., 195-lb. forward whose only other trip to Calgary was for a summer camp in 2002.

On the surface, though, it would appear the 2004-05 season was something of a step backwards. Having scored five goals and adding five assists the year before, Maki only collected one goal and four helpers last season.

He, however, wasn't disappointed.

"I didn't get that much time on the powerplay, being on the third or fourth line, but it was a good year," he said.

"I was one of the youngest guys on the team so it was OK."

Certainly there was plenty of team success. Jokerit placed second in the regular season -- proof Maki can play a defensive game comes with the fact the squad allowed only 96 goals in 56 games -- and reached the league final.

Not bad considering the locked-out NHLers on the roster only included Buffalo defenceman Brian Campbell, Colorado defenceman Ossi Vaananen and Boston goalie Tim Thomas.

"They were defencemen and a goalie so it didn't affect my ice time," he said. "It was really good to see how they play and to learn things from them."

And now the learning curve will climb further.

With a healthy command of the English language -- despite his apologies -- he is well equipped to soak up as much information as possible from the coaches, not to mention his potential teammates.

"Those guys I've been watching since I was younger and now I'll be in the same room. It's a dream come true," he said.

Just as it would be a dream come true to stick with the big club.

Still, as much potential as Maki has, it's more likely he'll be part of the AHL Omaha Knights.

"We'll see," Maki said. "I want to make the team but if I have to go to Omaha, then I go to Omaha and come back later."


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