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Friday, December 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Getting fit really sparks T-bird

Special to The Seattle Times

Sena Acolatse grew up in California, and his father hails from Ghana in West Africa.

Although that's not exactly a typical background for an ice-hockey player, the young defenseman for the Seattle Thunderbirds has developed a big shot he's ready to unleash.

Acolatse, 16, is a rookie in the Western Hockey League who's quick to admit he wasn't in shape when Seattle's training camp started.

Now, after losing 32 pounds, Acolatse is gaining ice time. At 5 feet 11 and holding steady at a solid 202 pounds, Acolatse is beginning to show off his tremendous potential.

"I feel a lot lighter and have noticed that my feet are moving more," Acolatse said. "I feel good now. It's really helped."

Acolatse lost the weight through exercise and determination. He skates after practice with assistant coach Blake Knox and follows a strict nutritional plan developed by trainer Kevin Heise.

"We knew he had the talent to play in this league," Seattle coach Rob Sumner said. "His fitness level wasn't where it needed to be, but he's done all the extra work he needed to do and it's made a huge difference in his game. Give him full credit."

Seattle general manager Russ Farwell said Acolatse's skill and coordination were obvious, but that wasn't why he drafted him with the 76th choice in the 2005 bantam draft.

"I loved his spirit," Farwell said. "He just played so tough and so hard all the time. And he was so cool and patient with the puck. It can drive coaches nuts, but that's how you make plays."

Acolatse got his chance when Jeremy Schappert injured his shoulder Dec. 1 and was impressive in a victory over Vancouver and a shootout defeat against Kootenay last week.

"I feel like the coaches have more confidence in me now," Acolatse said. "At the beginning of the year, I was lacking a little confidence in myself. Now I have an opportunity and am just trying to go out, stay relaxed and make the simple plays."

Sumner has encouraged Acolatse to let his hard shot fly whenever he can.

"He has an unbelievable shot ... ," Sumner said. "He's 16 and he hasn't played a lot, but his skills are at a level that he'll be a force on the power play."

"Now I'm working on getting it on net all the time," Acolatse said. "They're really encouraging me to shoot more."

Acolatse said he has had a hard shot ever since he took up the game at the age of 7 in Fremont, Calif.

He and his father, Connel Acolatse, a project manager, went to see a San Jose Sharks game, and both were hooked.

The family, which includes mother Dena Acolatse, moved to Edmonton when Sena was 8 so he could better pursue his dream.

"Things have worked out perfectly for me," Acolatse said. "I'm in shape and now I'm getting an opportunity to play. At the beginning of the year, I was lacking confidence. Now I just need to go out and make simple plays. That has helped me relax."

Notes

• The T-birds face a crazy schedule with three games in three nights and plenty of travel in between. Seattle, 12-7-0-7 and tied for third place in the U.S. Division with the Spokane Chiefs, plays tonight in Spokane, on Saturday in Everett and in Kamloops on Sunday.

• The Everett Silvertips, 24-2-0-1, are back on top in the Canadian Hockey League rankings by NHL scouts. The Silvertips overtook Vancouver as the top team.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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