Winterhawks set to open training camp

Four days of tryouts begin Thursday for WHL hockey team

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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BEAVERTON, Ore. — The first strides of hockey season will be taken on Thursday as the Portland Winterhawks open training camp for the 2011-12 Western Hockey League season.

A total of 88 players, among them most of the team’s NHL draftees, are expected to participate in what amounts to a four-day tryout at the Winterhawks Skating Center in Beaverton.

The camp will include Neely Cup scrimmages that are open to the public at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, the Neely Cup third-place game will be at 9 a.m., followed by the championship game. The Neely Cup is named in honor of former Winterhawk Cam Neely, who is now the general manager of the Boston Bruins.

The Winterhawks Skating Center, formerly Valley Ice Arena, is at 9250 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

Many of the Neely Cup players are age 16 and 17 prospects. On Sunday afternoon, the roster will be trimmed to 30-35 players who will practice with the team in advance of its first preseason games on Sept. 3-4 in the Tri-Cities.

“Hopefully some of the guys are going to surprise us” with their development over the summer, head coach and general manager Mike Johnston said.

Each of the players participated in fitness testing Wednesday in advance of the start of on-ice training on Thursday.

Two players who will not take part in training camp with the Winterhawks are Ryan Johnansen and Nino Niederreiter.

Those 19-year-old forwards are training with their National Hockey League teams in advance of the opening of NHL training camps. At 19, both must return to Portland if they do not stick in the NHL this season.

At least 14 Winterhawks are expected to attend NHL training camps in September, which means the team will have a light roster for some of its preseason games.

The Winterhawks, the Western Conference champions last season, open the regular season Sept. 23 at the Rose Garden against Everett.