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WHL best bang for the buck
By BRET HART
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Bret Hart models a Calgary Hitmen jersey at Toronto's Air Canada Centre March 29, 1999.
-- Craig Robertson, Toronto Sun

I think it's cool the Calgary Hitmen have thrown a touch of pink into the team's 10th anniversary logo. Speaking of anniversaries, there was an NHL lockout during the Hitmen's inaugural season. And, once again, the WHL is the best bang for your buck this year.

If you're looking to find any of the NHL players, no doubt you'll see them in the stands cheering for the Hitmen.

The season outlook couldn't be any brighter and you can bet GM-head coach Kelly Kisio is smiling after being rated No. 3 in the country and No. 1 in the WHL by The Hockey News.

But Kisio's not one to get too high on his horse ... yet. He's careful to remind us: "It's not where you start, it's where you finish."

It's a shame we won't have Mike Egener this year but I have to say this Hitmen squad is the most impressive it's been since Brad Moran and Brent Dodginghorse took us to the Memorial Cup as WHL champs in 1999.

It's no coincidence Dean Evason, a close pal of Kisio's who was instrumental in preparing us defensively for that '99 championship run, is now co-coach of the team. Kisio will focus on offence, allowing Evason to key on defence.

Ryan Getzlaf and his linemate Andrew Ladd are back. Ladd has rebounded from a summer shoulder injury. Strangely enough, it was Getzlaf who took him out with a clean bodycheck at the world junior camp. But it looks like Ladd will be ready for the home opener Sept. 26th.

My sources tell me Karl Alzner, a rugged 6-ft. 2-in., 202-lb., 15-year-old defenceman, really impressed the coaches.

Hitmen fans should take note. Alzner will seriously impact the team's success for years to come.

Two European players, Roman Tomanek from Slovakia and Kazakhstan's Konstantin Pushkarev, will play a big part in helping the Hitmen live up to the high expectations as the No. 1-ranked team in the league.

Tomanek may, in fact, find himself on the top line with Getzlaf and Ladd.

My sources also tell me the whole team is bigger and tougher than last year's. On any given night, any one of them could drop the gloves and hold their own against the scrappiest in the league -- especially Darryl Yacboski, Brett O'Malley and Paul Gentile.

I hear Yacboski has a right hand that will send you to the promised land. And that's just a warning to the Medicine Hat Tigers and Brett Sutter's Red Deer Rebels, which we can expect will come at us with all they have.

Last year's backup Scott Bowles will hold down the fort between the pipes.

Flames season-ticket holders might want to take advantage of a great deal from the Hitmen. They can buy a 10-game pack for regular-season games for $90, which includes a $10 food-and-beverage voucher.

For you die-hard hockey addicts, have no fear, Hitmen hockey's here. More scoring, more fights, more hits and no TV time-outs.

As I say every year, WHL hockey is still the best deal in town when it comes to hard-hitting action.

See you in the stands.


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