Nebraska Omaha coach Dean Blais was named coach of the U.S. team for the 2012 World Junior Championships in Calgary and Edmonton during the Final Five. 

At the time, he said, he would have a real advantage this time. As a college coach, he could attend the American Hockey Coaches Association meetings last week in Naples, Fla.

"Now I can go down to Florida," Blais said, "and talk to every league, every coach. They will have the input. They know if a player is good enough to play on this World Junior team or not. Two years ago, we had Jordan Schroeder from the Gophers, Derek Stepan from the Badgers, [Jake] Gardiner from the Badgers, [Chris] Kreider from Boston College.

"I can go down [the list] and there were a lot of college players. Hopefully, we will have a lot of college players try out again because they were the heart and soul of our team. Nothing against the major junior kids but the college players were a big part of it, too."

Blais, then coach of the expansion Fargo Force in the USHL, led the U.S. team to a gold medal in the 2010 Junior Worlds in Saskatoon, Alberta. Last year the U.S. team earned the bronze in Buffalo, N.Y.


One player that Blais likes is Gophers 6-4 center Nick Bjugtad, who was a freshman this past season and played on the U.S. team i Buffalo over the holidays.

"I like the way Bjugstad plays," Blais said. "He is big, strong and rangy. Had a great year. A typical freshman right out of high school. He needed a few games, but it didn't take him long to get used to the pace of the WCHA and be a dominant player.

"He will be a very important part of a returning group of players. I don't know how many of those will make the team because I wasn't there. It has nothing to do with stats. It has all to do with whether they will buy into what we are trying to sell out in Lake Placid, a huge training ground for us."

The U.S. will have a training camp in Lake Placid in August and then another for only 28-29 players in December before the final cuts will be made.

"When we were over in Russia and Czechoslovakia, people in the United States didn't even know that we were playing in a tournament over there," Blais said, referring to his first World Juniors. "Now with media and access to TV and broadcasts, everyone saw our games up in Saskatoon and they will see our games up in Calgary and Edmonton, too."