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USA able to lick wounds with a bye to semifinals

If any team ever needed a bye into the IIHF World Under-20 Hockey Championship semifinals, it's the battered and bruised United States.

The extra day off gives Team USA forwards Jeremy Morin and Jason Zucker -- key members of last year's gold-medal outfit -- some additional time to try to recover and perhaps become available for the meaningful games of the tournament after missing a combined five preliminary-round contests due to upper-body injuries. Coach Keith Allain didn't provide any updates on their status following Friday's bye-clinching 2-1 win over Switzerland.

Morin has been out since suffering what's believed to be a shoulder injury in the Americans' 3-2 overtime win over Finland last Sunday. Zucker was KO'd by an elbow to the head in the 6-1 win over Slovakia last Tuesday by defenseman Marek Marincin -- a blow that resulted in the Edmonton Oilers' prospect being suspended for four games.

"This extra day off is going to go a long way in their recovery," U.S. forward Kyle Palmieri said. "Hopefully the next couple days we all get healthy and put our full roster on the ice against whoever we play."

Team USA didn't practice Saturday, opting to rest up for what could be a potential semifinal clash with Canada on Monday, pending the outcome of the Canadians' game against Switzerland today. The U.S. did make an appearance at HSBC Arena nonetheless Saturday night.

The team attended the Buffalo Sabres' contest against the Boston Bruins. Even though Team USA has four players with NHL experience on its roster, it's still a hoot to be able to attend an NHL contest live, even if you happen to be Palmieri -- who played 10 games with Anaheim earlier this season.

"It's always fun to see guys and see guys compete like that," said Palmieri, who scored in his NHL debut Nov. 3. "Anytime you watch anyone at the NHL level is great. I think coaches are looking at it as team bonding, getting out of the hotel a little bit and watching hockey at the highest level."

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Team USA was an offensive juggernaut during last year's event, outscoring its preliminary round foes, 26-9.

The Americans have outscored their foes, 15-4, this year with 12 different players hitting the scoresheet.

"We wanted to put a balanced lineup together," Allain said. "We tried to set up our lines that way and so far it's worked out. It makes us a more difficult team to play against if we can get scoring anywhere in the lineup."

Does having a team featuring eight returnees from last year's gold-medal squad, including goalie Jack Campbell, play a role in sharing the tournament lead with Finland for the fewest goals allowed in the championships?

"I also think we've got good smart hockey players," Allain said. "The leadership we've gotten from returning players like [Ryan Bourque and John Ramage] helps for sure."

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Anyone who listened to Friday's postgame news conference with Canada coach Dave Cameron and Swedish counterpart Roger Ronnberg did hear correctly.

Ronnberg did in fact say his team had a much harder time playing against Russia and the Czech Republic than it did against Canada.

Cameron was asked to comment on that Saturday, especially since the Swedes did need a shootout to beat Canada, and it was a classic response.

"I want to answer that in two parts," Cameron said. "First part being they beat us, he's the king of the mountain right now. He can say what he wants. The second part, I wish part of this tournament was a shinny game between coaches and no media."

Cameron's last line drew quite the chuckle from the media.

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With First Night party festivities taking place near Team USA's hotel, the Americans and Switzerland both returned to their hotel the round-about way but it didn't take too long since they had a police escort.

"Almost presidential," Allain said of the convoy. "We didn't have the sirens going."

e-mail: mrodriguez@buffnews.com