But Cameron believes that Greg Hewitt will surprise many if he hasn’t already. Hewitt, just 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, was 16-37-5 with a 3.71 GAA and a .897 save percentage last season at Elmira (UHL). But Cameron believes that was just an aberration, adding that the real Hewitt and his quick glove hand was seen during a pair of exhibition wins over Las Vegas, allowing just three goals. “We were spoiled with Chris Madden last year. It’s hard to fill in for the Goalie of the Year,” admitted Cameron. “Hewitt is coming in after a season of playing on the worst team in the UHL in Elmira, and statistically, he didn’t have a great year. I’m sure fans had questions about him. But I don’t think they do anymore after they saw him play. I never had any questions.” Canadiens property Jaroslav Halak, who Cameron calls “a premier goaltending prospect,” is the backup. “We are blessed from the goalie out,” Cameron said. And as deep and talented as the Ice Dogs are on the back end and in net, they might be equally impressive up front. Gone are four of the top five scorers from last year, including top producer Evan Cheverie and ECHL Rookie of the Year runner-up Marco Rosa, who could rejoin the team if he is sent down from his AHL assignment in Milwaukee. Another top forward the Ice Dogs signed, Mac Faulkner, is also currently in the AHL. Cameron believes this crop of forwards, despite having less skill, could actually be better than a year ago, when the Ice Dogs finished tied for 10th with 3.06 goals per game. What makes this year’s offense dangerous, according to Cameron, is its speed, depth and gritty play some attributes that were sorely missed in the Ice Dogs’ second-round playoff ouster against Alaska. “I don’t think we have that dynamic, real skill level that we had last year with guys like Evan Cheverie and Marco Rosa, guys who are electrifying offensively,” Cameron said. “What we do have is better team speed, better team grit and better depth. There is no real gap between forward No. 1 and forward No. 10. Last year, there was a huge difference between the first and second lines and the second and third lines. This year, every line could be our No 1. We don’t have a No. 1 line; we have three real good lines.” Chris Kenady, who was third in team scoring a year ago with 64 points, is the standard up front, and Anders Strome (57 points) and Jason Sessa (64) should also put up pretty good numbers. Players poised for breakout seasons include Christian Larrivee (29) and Cory Urquhart (31), recently sent back to L.B. from Hamilton (AHL). Max Birbraer, who had 49 points with San Diego last year, and Sean McAslan are solid two-way role players. And the rookie class is promising. Ash Goldie, out of Michigan State, could have the same type of impact Rosa had last year once he fully transitions from the college game to the pro game. Cameron also expects good things from Mike Woodford, Kevin Ulanski, Jeff Drummond and Jimmy Bonneau, another Canadiens prospect. “We are going to be a hard team to shut down and match lines against,” Cameron said. “Who are they going to try to shut down, waste their best checkers on?” It’s just not the talent the Ice Dogs have that has Cameron eyeing a run to playoffs and the Kelly Cup, it’s the style of game his team will employ. Because of rules changes from the NHL down to the ECHL, the game is more open offensively with no two-line pass, new regulations that prohibit a goalie from playing the puck in the corner and restrictions on a team that ices the puck. Cameron thinks the Ice Dogs can really take advantage of the new rules. “Playing without a red line is going to be new to lots of coaches, but not me,” he said. “I feel comfortable with that style of play. “We plan to take advantage of them as much as we can. We have a goalie in Hewitt who can handle the puck as good as any defenseman and on a bad change, send it 150 feet up the ice for a 2 on 1. We are prepared to exploit all the new rules. “As exciting as it is in the NHL right now, it’ll be more magnified at our level because the players just aren’t as good. The more mistakes made means more scoring opportunities off the rush, or the forecheck or on the power play because of more penalties being called. I think it’ll make it more fun for the fans.” What undoubtedly would be even more fun for the fans is a trip deeper into the playoffs this season. While Cameron might believe it is possible, he is trying to keep his optimism in check. So, he is just focusing on making the playoffs first. “We are demanding that we make the playoffs,” he said. “So much can happen between Day 1 and Day 171. But once we get to the playoffs, we’ll just have to see what happens.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “We expect to be a successful team this year, where last year we hoped to be a successful team,” said second-year coach Malcolm Cameron, who turned around the two worst seasons in franchise history and created a new era of winning Ice Dogs hockey. “When you take over a team in 27th place and no assets in terms of players, you can bring in the guys we did and hope to be successful, and I was comfortable that we would be. But this year I know we will be successful but to what degree? There’s no telling where we can go.” The Ice Dogs playing their 10th season in Long Beach this year brought back just one player from 2003-04, defenseman Trevor Read, and he didn’t make it through last season. This time out, the Ice Dogs have at least eight players returning from last year’s team that went 43-20-9 the third-best record in the league and advanced into the second round of the playoffs. On the surface, the expectations the Ice Dogs have for their 2005-06 ECHL season might seem pretty similar to last year secure a winning record and a spot in the Kelly Cup playoffs. But hoping to do it and knowing it’s going to happen are two different things heading into tonight’s season opener in Idaho. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week The 2005-06 Ice Dogs have been built from the defense out. Four defensemen captain Dan Watson, Mike Vellinga, Steeve Villeneuve and David Walker return to help make up a corps that saw Long Beach allow just 2.51 goals per game (fifth-best in the ECHL). Add to them CHL Defenseman of the Year runner-up Derick Martin, Montreal Canadiens prospect James Sanford, rookie Luke Fritzshaw, a standout in the WHL, and training camp surprise Chris Busby, and the Ice Dogs’ back line is as strong as any in the ECHL. However, Sanford will miss the first weekend of the season because of immigration issues and Watson won’t play until mid-November as he comes back from offseason shoulder surgery. “We have significantly upgraded the defense from where we started last year,” Cameron said. “We don’t have any guys who I’d be nervous to put on the ice, like I was last year. We have six solid guys, plus we have Sanford and Watson waiting in the wings. I think it’s an envious position for any coach to be in. From one through eight, we are pretty darn strong. I think we stack up against anybody.” It might seem that the Ice Dogs have a gaping hole in net, with Chris Madden, the ECHL Goalie of the Year, moving on after a highlight-reel first half last season and carrying the team early on.