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Young Terriers look to impress

By Brian Oliver, The Graphic

A pair of rookies wrestle in front of the net during camp Sunday afternoon at Stride Place in Portage. (Brian Oliver/The Graphic)

A pair of rookies wrestle in front of the net during camp Sunday afternoon at Stride Place in Portage. (Brian Oliver/The Graphic)

With a large core of last year's championship winning squad set to return, roster spots are few and far between for Terrier freshmen hoping to suit up at the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) level this season.

An all-rookie edition of the Portage Terriers will take to the ice Tuesday night at Stride Place with hopes of impressing Blake Spiller and the rest of the Terrier brass enough to still be around when the regular season kicks off later this month.

"It looks like there are some young guys here that are going to be able to push some of the veterans that we have," said assistant coach Paul Harland, as camp was wrapping up Sunday afternoon. "Whoever wants to step up, there are some positions available. 

I think over the next two-three weeks, once we have some exhibition games and some more practices, we'll be able to sort through and see who's going to be here when opening day arrives." 

Veterans Jeremey Leipsic, Chase Brakel, Ty Enns, Ryan Sokoloski, James McIsaac and Ty Barnstable headline a talented core of forwards returning for the Terriers. Add in the offseason acquisitions of Turner Ripplinger and Daniel McKitrick and the success both Jared Roy and Takato Cox had last year and only a few positions remain.

"We were a young team last year and we turned a corner right before the playoffs," adds Harland. "We're bringing back a lot of those same guys and we're going to add some pieces from camp."

Although young, the returning group knew how to score.

Leipsic (33G 67A - 100) and Brakel (34G 46A - 80) finished first and second in MJHL scoring while leading the Terrier offence to a league-high 256 goals for last season.

The Terrier blueline picture is a little foggier. 

Mackenzie Dwyer, Cody Thompson, Nick Doyle and Lane Taylor are the lone returning skaters on the back end that spent any real significant time with the club last year. Cole Oliver - acquired last season but unable to play - should challenge for a spot in the top-four but the departure of Riley Thiessen, Jordan Thomson and Layne Toder has left Spiller and company with some decisions to make.

"There's some young prospects here that showed well this weekend," said Harland. "We'll give them some opportunities in the preseason and see if they're going to be able to fit in and add to the club."

Netminder Brock Aiken enters as the Terriers' No. 1 goalie. The offseason departure of Kurtis Chapman is certain to make the battle for the back-up role interesting.

The rookies will welcome Virden's freshmen to town Tuesday evening - puck drop set for 7:30 p.m., at Stride Place.

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