The Portland Winter Hawks will head into the Western Hockey League season with two new European players Ñ and without Jakub Klepis.

Klepis had expressed interest in returning to Portland, where he played two seasons ago before playing in his native Czech Republic last season. But Klepis, an unsigned first-round NHL pick in 2002, changed his mind. Buffalo has his rights.

Unfortunately, the Hawks had to release Roman Prazak to make room for Klepis on the 50-man protected list. So, with Klepis' decision and the probability that 20-year-old David Turon won't be back, the Hawks needed to fill two spots.

The club drafted Ivan Dornic Jr., a high-end Slovakian center, with the eighth pick in last week's Canadian Hockey League import draft. The New York Rangers selected him in the NHL draft earlier this month, and he wants to enhance his chances of signing with them by playing junior hockey here.

The Slovaks won a silver medal in the World Under-18 tournament, and the 6-foot, 183-pound Dornic was 'the heart and soul of the team,' Ranger scout Jan Gadosik says.

The Hawks selected defenseman Tomas Fojtik, 6-3, 182, from the Czech Republic with their second import pick. Fojtik has 'a reputation of playing an in-your-face style of game,' Portland General Manager Ken Hodge says.

Ñ Jason Vondersmith

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