Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

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U.S. team faces Russia tonight in preparation for World Juniors

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under College hockey Updated: December 20, 2011 - 1:01 PM

Nick Bjugstad won't be in the lineup, but Kyle Rau probably will be as the U.S. team faces Russia at 8 tonight (Tuesday) in an exhibition game in Red Deer, Alberta. A live blog on the game will be available here.

Bjugstad, a Gophers sophomore center, has not been participating in team scrimmages so far. He is trying to heal from an injury suffered early in the Gophers' last game on Dec. 10 against Michigan Tech.

His linemate at Minnesota, Rau, is one of the players on the bubble to make the U.S. team which has to cut the 17 forwards at its pre-tournament camp to probably 13 on Thursday. The World Junior Championships start Dec. 26 in Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta.

Bjugstad was considered a cinch to make the U.S. team, at least until his injury. Neither he nor USA Hockey is saying what the injury is but several sources are saying Bjugstad has a shoulder injury.

The U.S. team faces Switzerland on Wednesday and Slovakia on Friday in exhibition games. Bjugstad said he expects to play Friday and, for sure, will be ready for the tournament next week. He played on the U.S. team a year ago.

Blais led the U.S. team to a gold medal in the World Juniors in 2010 when the tournament was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Blais said he was happy about the candidates for the team and the team's schedule. "And I'm excited about the opportunity to coach our country again," the Nebraska Omaha coach said last week in a teleconference call. He also coached the U.S. team in 1994.

USA Hockey's Jim Johannson, the team's general manager, said the emphasis was on versatility in selecting players for this tryout camp in Camrose, Alberta. That could help Rau's chances because the freshman left winger plays on both the power play and penalty kill for the Gophers.

Blais also said he is looking for speed. "We chose a lot of players who can get up and down the ice."

Bjugstad was an easy pick for the tryout camp. He has 16 goals for the Gophers, only one NCAA player has more this season.

"With Nick the exciting part for us was seeing the maturation of this player," Johannson said. "He is a guy with a huge upside in his game. And he has put more of that together in his early success with the Gophers. He is a little bit stronger and everything he did last year is at a higher pace."

Sure sounds as if the U.S. team staff was counting on Bjugstad -- if he is healthy.

Said Johannson, "It is a tough, physical tournament."

If the U.S. team makes the semifinals, it would play seven games in 11 days. That's a grind.

That said, Bjugstad is one of the two strongest players on the Gophers roster, according to U of M strength and conditioning coach Cal Dietz. Only captain Taylor Matson is in better shape. And Bjugstad said he is working out hard this week and is participating in practices wearing a "no-contact" yellow jersey.

* NHL Network and the International Ice Hockey Federation has reached a long-term deal for the network to televise the World Juniors through 2018. It will broadcast 15 games this year. The story is here.

2012 IIHF World Junior Championship
NHL Network (U.S.) Television Schedule

Date Matchup City * Time CDT

Dec. 26 Canada vs. Finland at Edmonton, 2:30 p.m.
              USA vs. Denmark at Edmonton, 7 p.m.
Dec. 27 Denmark vs. Czech Republic at Edmonton, 7 p.m.
Dec. 28 Finland vs. USA at Edmonton, 2:30 p.m.
              Czech Republic vs. Canada at Edmonton, 7 p.m.
Dec. 29 Canada vs. Denmark at Edmonton,  7 p.m.
Dec. 30 Czech Republic vs. USA at Edmonton,  2:30 p.m. 
             Finland vs. Denmark at Edmonton,  7 p.m.
Dec. 31 USA vs. Canada at Edmonton,  7 p.m.
Jan. 2 Quarterfinal #1 at Calgary, 4 p.m.
          Quarterfinal #2 at Calgary, 8 p.m.
Jan. 3 Semifinal #1 at Calgary, 4 p.m.
           Semifinal #2 at Calgary, 8 p.m.
Jan. 5 Bronze  medal game at Calgary, 2:30 p.m.
          Gold  medal game at Calgary,  7 p.m.
 

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