Like their northern rivals, Team USA might have to go right up to the last minute to decide whether a frontline player will be good to go for the world junior.
Returning centre Nick Bjugstad, who would be pencilled in for the Yanks' first or second line, has been given no-contact status during practices at camp in Camrose, Alta. Combined with Justin Faulk being unavailable for the tournament, it seems Fate really wants to test the Americans' depth in both position groups.
From Guy Flaming:
[Bjugstad] was a bit banged up in his last outing with the Gophers and is wearing the protective yellow jersey during practice. Those I chatted with during the practice felt that the shoulder injury wasn't going to prevent Bjugstad from playing in the tournament but when I asked coach Dean Blais about it after the skate, he sounded less certain.
"We're day by day with Nick and he'll be in that gold jersey probably until our third exhibition game and then we'll decide whether we'll play him," said the coach. "If there's any question at all, if he's not 100 percent, he will not play. That's the policy that our trainers have and that's the policy we have as coaches; we're not going to put anyone out there and jeopardize not only his career but also the success of the team if you play a guy that's hurt."
For clarification I asked again if Bjugstad's status for the start of the tournament was really in question.
"Well you never know, you never know with any kind of injury and [the shoulder] is a day to day kind of deal," Blais repeated, "We'll make sure that he's in good condition and that he's 100 percent and if he's not we're not playing him." (Coming Down The Pipe!)
The question is whether it's a firm deadline or a soft one from Bjugstad, of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, to be 100 per cent. Part of the deeper context here, of course, is that it's probably still fresh in USA Hockey's mind that, as Chris Dilks noted, at the 2005 tourney Team USA played a defenceman with a shoulder injury, with disastrous results.
Teams can go right up to Dec. 25, the eve of the tournament, to name their final 22-player roster, so it's chancy to take someone who might have to miss a game.
... it's a bit too early to panic, as this is still a very fluid situation. The fact that Bjugstad will be held out of the exhibitions and isn't taking contact shouldn't really set him back any. It's good for him to rest that injury. Should Bjugstad show improvement, I'd expect him to be on the final roster, even if it means he has to sit out a game or two at the tournament.
That said, if there's any concern that he'd have to miss more than two or maybe three games, there's a good chance he'd have to be left off the roster. The U.S. dealt with injuries a lot in 2011 and it would be tough to start in a hole already this year. (United States of Hockey)
In an odd coincidence, all three forwards on the U.S. and Canada whose status for the pre-tournament games is iffy are Florida Panthers prospects: Bjugstad and Canadian forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Quinton Howden. Another forward drafted by the Panthers, the University of North Dakota's Rocco Grimaldi, also has an injury that cost him a chance to make Team USA.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Associated Press).