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Team USA may miss two threats ; Americans practice without Nelson, Morin

The United States' title defense in the IIHF World Under-20 Hockey Championship got off to a triumphant start Sunday, but it appears the victory was more costly than fans of the red, white and blue had originally thought.

While it was common knowledge that Brock Nelson was injured in the 3-2 overtime win over a physical Finland crew, he's not the only American forward who could potentially be sidelined with an apparent upper-body injury. Top offensive threat and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Jeremy Morin also is ailing.

Both skaters took the ice briefly prior to the start of practice Monday afternoon at HSBC Arena, however they were only there for a Kodak moment. The U.S. had its official team photo taken before it began preparation for tonight's clash at the arena against Slovakia (8 p.m., NHL Network). Morin and Nelson scooted off the ice immediately after the photo shoot.

Neither was made available to the media after practice as a Team USA spokesman said they were receiving treatment.

So will either forward dress for tonight's game? Will either be available for any of the remaining tournament games? What is their playing status?

"I'm not going to comment [on that]," U.S. coach Keith Allain said.

It's not surprising Allain didn't say anything. Should either return and aren't completely 100 percent healthy, there is the likelihood they would be targeted by the opposition.

Nelson was hurt late in the third period after being crushed by center Joonas Nattinen, but it's unclear when Morin -- who scored a goal that was disallowed in the third period due to a man being in the Finns' goal crease -- got hurt.

"I don't know what happened," team captain John Ramage said. "I think it might just be a bruise or something, something that happened in the game or something."

Morin, an alternate captain who helped the U.S. strike gold last year in Saskatoon with two goals and seven points in seven games, had 47 goals in 58 games last year with Kitchener and led the Ontario Hockey League with 23 power-play goals. He had seven goals and 11 points in 19 games with the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate in Rockford, Ill. He had two goals and an assist in nine games with Chicago, scoring both his goals during a four-game stretch from Dec. 8-15.

Nelson is the nephew of Miracle on Ice team member Dave Christian and was selected in the first round of last June's draft by the New York Islanders. Nelson scored twice in the team's 6-1 triumph over Norway last Thursday in its final pre-tournament exhibition game.

While the loss of both, especially Morin, weakens the Americans offensively, the team is confident there is enough fire power and character to get through the situation.

Nick Bjugstad, who scored seven goals in seven junior evaluation camp games last summer, scored the game-winner Sunday night against the Finns. Jason Zucker, a returnee from last year, and Justin Faulk also scored in the triumph. Anaheim prospect Kyle Palmieri, who had a team-high eight assists and nine points in seven games in last year's world junior championship, also generated a bunch of chances with his speed.

"I think we have a team full of guys that can step up for us," Allain said. "That's one of the ways that we pick this hockey team is they're versatile players. We think we can use guys in a lot of different roles.

"Our guys understand this is a real, real tough tournament and that every team you play can beat you. -- You have to overcome these obstacles to get to the next round and when you get to the next round the obstacles become bigger and you have to overcome them if you want to be champions."

Meanwhile, respect was on the mind of Canada coach Dave Cameron.

The Canadians head into their second game today against the Czech Republic (4 p.m., NHL Network) determined not to have a letdown following Sunday's emotional and hard fought 6-3 triumph over rival Russia.

The Canadians, who are 9-0-2 since 1993 against the Czechs, have good reason to respect them. The Czech Republic beat the United States last week via shootout in a pre-tournament contest in Rochester. Canada will face Norway on Wednesday before facing pre-tournament favorite Sweden on Friday.

"Our message today is respect," Cameron said. "Respect the tournament and the teams in it. If we're going to start thinking we beat a good team and we're playing two lesser teams, that's a recipe for disaster, so we're not even looking at this as any downswing. We're respecting the tournament and the teams in it and we're going to look at the Czechs as a very worthy opponent."

There are three games on the slate at HSBC Arena today with Finland-Switzerland kicking off a tripleheader at 12:30 p.m.

The potential game of the day is at 7 p.m. at Dwyer Arena in Lewiston with Sweden facing Russia.

e-mail: mrodriguez@buffnews.com

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