Eagles take flight tonight

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Oct 142004
 
Authors: Justin Goldman

The Colorado Eagles start their second season in the Central

Hockey League tonight and Saturday with a pair of preseason games

against their Northern Conference rivals, the Tulsa Oilers. The

puck drops at 7:05 p.m. at the Budweiser Events Center both

nights.

This season looks more promising than the first, with the top

four scorers returning, including Greg Pankewicz, last season’s

Most Valuable Player. Pankewicz is the top returning forward for

the Eagles with 46 goals and 95 points as he helped the Eagles

finish last season with a shocking 91 points (43-16-5) and a .711

winning percentage, the highest ever for an expansion team.

Also on the Eagle roster is Latvian speedster Karlis Zirnis, who

was the CHL’s top rookie scorer with 23 goals and 60 points in all

64 games.

“You are going to see a significant talent rise in the CHL this

season,” said Eagles head coach Chris Stewart after Wednesday’s

training. “I want to give our potential players all an equal

opportunity to show their stuff this week.”

This could prove to be difficult, as a training camp roster of

30 high-caliber athletes are battling for a spot on the 18-man

roster. Stewart must turn in a finalized roster to the league

before the start of their regular season, which is Oct. 22 in

Oklahoma City against the revamped Blazers.

“We are trying to put together a puzzle,” Stewart said. “So

basically you are trying to see what you have, what you got coming

in, and what’s going to fit together.”

The month-old NHL lockout has resulted in a trickle-down effect

for many elite level players, as the CHL has seen a plethora of

American and East Coast Hockey League players fill roster spots

throughout the league. The Eagles are part of this trend, with a

pair of AHL superstars attending their training camp.

Netminder Tyler Weiman and forward David Svagrovsky were sent

down from the Hershey Bears, the Colorado Avalanche’s top farm

club, last weekend just in time for the Eagles’ training camp,

which opened Monday morning with a two-hour practice.

“I’ve had a good week so far,” said Weimen, a 2002 Avalanche

draft pick. “I’ve come in here and tried to do what the coaches

want: just stop pucks. I think I have played pretty well.”

Svagrovsky could make the biggest impact as a new arrival for

the Eagles. The 19-year-old native from Prague, Czech Republic was

drafted by the Avalanche in 2003 and played for the Seattle

Thunderbirds in the WHL for the past two seasons.

Other new faces include some strong and burly defensemen,

including Kris Mallette and Steve McCormick. Forward Kevin Marsh

has made huge waves during training camp, along with Lee Ruff, who

has been moved to the defensive position.

“I have gotten lighter and worked on speed mostly,” said Ruff

following Wednesday’s practice. “I’m more comfortable at defense

because that’s what I’ve played all my life, except for last season

I played a lot up front. I like playing a more physical game.”

Riley Nelson will be centering the top line again, as he

collected 33 goals and 82 points in only 54 games for the Eagles.

His speed, leadership and experience will be needed during close

games and on the power play. Ryan Tobler rounds out the Eagles’ top

line, as he added 30 goals and 79 points in 51 games last season.

Tobler and Pankewicz were both called up to the Wilkes-Barre

Scranton Penguins for brief stints in the AHL.

As tonight’s match up against the Oilers kicks off, it will give

the Eagles a chance to evaluate new players and get a feel for the

upcoming season.

“Certainly you want to have the best talent you can have, but if

you just have one thing, you aren’t going to be very successful,”

Stewart said following Thursday’s final tune-up scrimmage. “That is

what we are trying to do, fit the pieces of a puzzle together.”

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