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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Gophers fans likely have mixed feelings about Bjugstad making U.S. team

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Gophers, Men's hockey Updated: December 22, 2011 - 2:53 AM

Nick Bjugstad, the Gophers' leading scorer, wants to play in the World Junior Championships. There is no doubt about that. He has said so repeatedly.

But he is 19 and, at that age, young men often feel indestructible and are confident nothing will happen to them. Trouble is, Bjugstad is nicked up a little already.

He has been held out of the U.S. team's first two exhibition games -- a 6-3 loss to Russia and a 7-3 win over Switzerland. Bjugstad will not talk about the specifics of his injury, only that it happened Dec. 10 against Michigan Tech. That's 12 days ago now.

Are the U.S. coaches and medical staff being overcautious? Maybe. Blais has been quoted as saying he would not play Bjugstad unless he is 100 percent healthy.

Blais is in a ticklish spot with Bjugstad, arguably the Gophers' best player. Blais' college team, Nebraska Omaha is chasing the Gophers in the WCHA race, and still has to play Minnesota in February.

He obviously does not want to put Bjugstad in a game and have him further injure himself. If Bjugstad would get hurt and be unable to play for any length of time -- what a blow to the Gophers that would be. Bjugstad centers the U's top line, plays on the power play and the penalty kill. He has 16 goals already, on pace to reach 30 maybe.

So because of how important he is to the Gophers, some fans might be relieved if Bjugstad doesn't make the team. Then they wouldn't have to worry every time he is involved in a big collision -- and there will be a lot in the World Juniors.

Defenseman Seth Jones, who at 6-4 and 190 is almost as big as Bjugstad, suffered an upper body injury against Russia. On Wednesday, his arm was in a sling and he was preparing to go home.

The hitting will only intensify when the real tournament starts. If the U.S. reaches the semifinals, it would play seven games in 11 days.

Several sources were saying Monday that Bjugstad -- who has been wearing a yellow jersey -- signifying no contact with that player in practices -- is protecting a shoulder injury. Bjugstad will probably have to convince Blais that he can play at full strength or close to it to make the U.S. roster.

The U.S. team will likely go with 13 forwards -- only one substitute -- and cut four of the 17 still on the roster.

Bjugstad said Monday he expected to play Friday when the U.S. faces Slovakia in its third and final exhibition game and be ready for the World Juniors starting next week.

On defense, there are only eight candidates because the Carolina Hurricanes would not release Justin Faulk who is playing a lot of NHL minutes. And Jones, of course, is out. So there may be only one cut needed on the blue line.

The two goalies are set.

Also in the mix to make the U.S. team is Kyle Rau, the freshman left wing on Bjugstad's top line with the Gophers. Rau is only 5-8, 170 but competes hard. T.J. Tynan of Notre Dame is the same size as Rau. Austin Czarnik, who had one goal and two assists on Wednesday against the Swiss, is smaller at 5-8, 152.

Tynan also had a goal against the Swiss. Rau? He didn't score but hit a pipe.

* FSN North has a new, simple name for all those alternate stations that carry Gophers hockey games when FSN can't because of a conflict with a Wild or Wolves game. It is calling them FSN PLUS.

Of the remaining 13 regular-season Gophers games that FSN will carry, seven are on PLUS. One, maybe two of the Gophers' first-round WCHA playoff games will also be on PLUS. What that means if you are a Comcast cable subscriber, is that the Gophers will be on Ch. 13 in Minneapolis or Ch. 23 in St. Paul on FSN PLUS  nights.

 

 

 

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