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Gopher Hockey Notebook: Brady Skjei injured, out for Mariucci Classic; WJC thoughts

Minnesota is off until January 2nd, but 3 players will be participating next week in their respective countries' World Junior Championships preliminary camps.

Minnesota freshman defenseman Ryan Collins can't wait to put back on the USA sweater.
Minnesota freshman defenseman Ryan Collins can't wait to put back on the USA sweater.
Tom Sorenson
Michigan State's Munn Arena has not been kind to Minnesota defensemen in Big Ten play.

The arena, with its boards and crazy bounces, has been the site of the Gophers' first half finale each of the last two years. Twice Minnesota (9-4-1, 1-0-1-0 Big Ten) has left with a win and a tie. Twice Minnesota has left East Lansing with an injured defenseman.

Brady Skjei (New York Rangers) once again is on the injury shelf, suffering an upper body injury going into the boards late in Saturday's 3-3 tie. (Michigan State went on to win a shootout for the extra Big Ten conference point.) Gophers head coach Don Lucia referenced Skjei's status Monday during his radio show and further clarified Wednesday.

"Brady's going to be out a while. He was injured late in the game Saturday so he definitely won't be playing in the Mariucci (Classic)," Lucia said.

Minnesota is off until January 2nd when the Gophers host Merrimack, UMass-Lowell and RIT in the Mariucci Classic. If Skjei, who has 4 points (1G-3A) in 10 games, is already ruled out, that means he is missing a minimum of three weeks. Although there isn't a further timeline at this time, the Gophers don't have another weekend off from then until the end of the season

This is the second separate injury for the junior in just over a month. Skjei, New York's first round draft pick (28th overall) in 2012, missed four games in November with an injured right leg.

"I feel bad for Brady because he just came back from another injury. Now he's got to go through it again," said Lucia. "The only good thing is at least 3 of the weeks we won't be playing so he won't miss as many games."

Minnesota's blue line depth at the top has been tested during the team's 2-3-1 stretch. There have only been two times where both Skjei and fellow junior blue liner Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) have finished the same game. The Gophers won both.

A season ago, defenseman Jake Parenteau broke his leg and had to be helped off the Munn Arena ice. He missed six weeks after undergoing surgery, returning in time to play in the North Star College Cup.

3 Gophers turn to World Juniors

With so much time off, today was spent talking with the three Minnesota players who will be participating in the upcoming U-20 World Junior Championships. Freshman defenseman Ryan Collins (Columbus Blue Jackets) and sophomore forward Hudson Fasching (Buffalo Sabres) both made the USA preliminary camp roster coached by former Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki. The 30 man roster has to be cut down to 23 before Christmas.

Fasching is a lock to return for his second consecutive WJC and give Minnesota a representative for the 23rd consecutive year (and 38th out of 39 since the tournament began in 1977). Collins is closer to the bubble. Team USA has 10 defensemen in camp and the freshman is competing with a few others for the same spot. (The good news for Collins is that he has another year of eligibility.)

Meanwhile, freshman forward Leon Bristedt is on Sweden's preliminary WJC roster. While not a lock and not exactly on the bubble, Bristedt, who has 2 goals in 12 games, thinks he has a good chance.

Those three will head to Canada next week for the various preliminary camps. For the rest of the Gopher players, the upcoming week focuses almost exclusively on the student part of "student-athlete." In other words: finals time.

The 2015 World Junior Championships run from December 26-January 5th in Toronto and Montreal. Besides being a national holiday in Canada (and, according to Bristedt, bigger in Sweden than the World Championships), the WJC features the best under-20 players in the world. It hasn't been as popular in the United States though that is changing in recent years.

If you've never watched the WJC, this is a good year to begin.

There are no early morning starting times with the tournament in North America. As mentioned, Canada goes all out for the WJC. It's an experience to be seen. This edition features several top 2015 draft picks - including the famed "Canada's Connor McDavid v. USA's Jack Eichel" battle between the projected top 2 picks and franchise cornerstones - and those already drafted by NHL teams. Plus if you're American, the US has a good roster. (And if you're not American you can likely cheer on your country.)

I hope to have a couple stories up late this week/early next week as part of our WJC coverage here at SB Nation College Hockey.

You'll have to wait until then, but there are several good gems. Fasching admits he has a chip on his shoulder this time around with Team USA's fifth-place finish. It's a good time for him to get going before the second half. The sophomore forward has 5 goals in 14 games, but is pointless in his last six games.

My favorite, however, has to be the fact Bristedt taught Collins, his roommate, several Swedish chirps in case the two meet one another. Sweden and the US are in different Groups. While the only way both would meet in the regular tournament is in the knockout phase, it could happen before. Both play one another December 23rd in an exhibition game.

Lucia's Team USA Thoughts

Lucia, who served as the head coach of the 2014 USA WJC team and participated in the selection process in 2013, is happy to not be away from his family at Christmas this time around. Still, he has a unique perspective knowing the infrastructure and having coached some of this year's Team USA players. Here's what he said:

"They're going to have some real young, high end skill. I don't know how the team will ultimately play itself out, but certainly Jack Eichel as a 17 year-old (ed. note the returning Eichel turned 18 in October) will be their number one center. He's just a generational type player.

"Now the direction they go with will (Auston) Matthews make the team as another 17 year old this year. Certainly I would think would think that (Dylan) Larkin and (J.T.) Compher from Michigan have a good chance to make it.

"I think they have a chance to have a real good team, but what ultimately is going to happen with their defensive core - they're going to have to make some real decisions on guys. I know (Zach) Werenski's in the mix and (Noah) Hanifin too. Two 17 year-old kids. It's a little bit unusual this year because there are such elite players at such young ages in our country and that will be a decision that USA Hockey and Mark Osiecki will have to make. Do they include those kids or add some older guys?"

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Lastly, a trio of Minnesota-related articles that are worth reading in my opinion:

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --