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
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
“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
“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.”