Dean Blais, the coach of the U.S. team, said during a teleconference call on Thursday afternoon that he is not sure whether Nick Bjugstad will play in the team's opening game in the World Junior Championships. Bjugstad, because of an undisclosed injury, has missed the U.S. team's first two exhibition games.
Bjugstad, a sophomore center for the Gophers, said a couple days ago that he would play against Slovakia in the U.S. team's third exhibition game on Friday and definitely be ready for its first WJC game vs. Denmark on Monday.
But Blais said Bjugstad is still day to day even though he practiced at full speed Thursday. He also said he is unsure if Bjugstad would play against Denmark.
Realistically, the U.S. doesn't need Bjugstad to beat Denmark, but the competition gets tougher after that. Finland, the Czech Republic and Canada are the next three opponents in the U.S. team's group.
Earlier this week, Blais said he would not play Bjugstad unless he is 100 percent healthy. Obviously, Blais and his staff must feel Bjugstad is making progress otherwise they would not have kept him on the roster, which was trimmed from 27 to 22 on Thursday morning.
Bjugstad was hurt on his first shift against Michigan Tech on Dec. 10 but played the rest of the game and scored his 16th goal of the season in the third period. Several sources said he has a shoulder injury, but Bjugstad and USA Hockey are not providing any clues.
"[Bjugstad] is 6-4, 204 and is having a great year," Blais said. "We are pleased to have Nick with us."
Kyle Rau, Bjugstad's linemate with the Gophers, also has impressed Blais. "He surprised me. He is smart and fast," Blais said, "and has had a lot of success."
Rau. a freshman left winger at the 'U' with 12 goals, played in the U.S. team's 7-3 victory over Switzerland on Wednesday in an exhibition game but not in a 6-3 loss to Russia the night before.