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Little returns to practice; Jets on upcoming World Cup announcement

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEGBryan Little was back on the ice today for the first time after suffering a neck injury late last week.

According to Paul Maurice, Little is a possibility to play tomorrow when the Jets host the Dallas Stars, but he’ll have to survive a more rigorous practice before being cleared by the medical staff.

Today, Little wore a bright-yellow, non-contact jersey, but that didn’t stop him from getting physical in some of the battle drills, leading Maurice to be “hopeful” his No. 1 centre will be healthy enough
to compete tomorrow against one of the NHL’s top teams.

“We had a good day today,” the head coach said. “He was wearing the gold, as you saw, so he didn’t get through the contact that a normal practice would. We’ll see how he comes back tomorrow. If he’s feeling strong then we’re going to put him through a stiffer morning skate, with the idea of preparing him for the game. Then we’ll still have to wait until he comes back to the rink (for the game).”

Little was injured in the second period of a 6-5 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bolts defenceman Anton Stralman took advantage of the forward’s vulnerable, off-balance posture, levelling him with a vicious open-ice blow to the head.

There was no penalty on the play.

“If he’s off, he’s not playing,” Maurice deadpanned. “If he’s not feeling right, if he’s having sensations that he shouldn’t or isn’t feeling strong, then he’s not going to play. But today was a real good first step because it was a fairly lengthy practice.”

Little skated on a line with Andrew Copp and Anthony Peluso, with Mathieu Perreault (maintenance) the only player absent for the hour-long skate.

WORLD CUP ANNOUNCEMENT

The initial 16-man rosters for all eight teams participating in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey will be announced on Wednesday at 5:45pm CT.

The Jets have a number of players of interest, including Jacob Trouba for the North American Young Stars. Trouba, an American, is ineligible to compete for Team USA despite his three gold medals with the national program, because players of age 23 and younger can only earn a spot with the Young Stars.

“If I’m lucky enough to be on that team, it’s something you want to enjoy. It will be a fun tournament, for sure,” Trouba said.

Asked whether or not it would be strange to compete against the red, white and blue in this, a unique, first-of-its-kind format, he said he hasn’t put much thought into it.

Yet.

With the likes of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and fellow Jets teammate Mark Scheifele possibly in the fold, he would just be excited to play.

“It’s an interesting blend,” Trouba said. “I don’t think much would be expected out of that team when playing against the big countries, but at the same time, there are a lot of really good young players in this league, and if I’m fortunate enough to be on that team, it would be cool to go in with a nothing-to-lose mentality and just go out and play. There won’t be much pressure on that
team.”

Another pressure-less candidate poised to deliver: Team Europe.

Maurice will be an assistant coach for that squad, joining former Edmonton Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger in uniting the best players from countries outside of the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden.

It’s advantage as far as Maurice is concerned, as they’ll be assembling a team of individuals not normally given a chance at these tournaments, and providing a legitimate opportunity to win.

Take superstar forward Anze Kopitar, for example. The Slovenian sniper was the only player of that nationality to compete at the most recent best-on-best tournament, the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“We’re looking forward to this being a place of great strength,” Maurice said. “When you look at the teams and the countries that we’ll draw from, realistically, they never go to a tournament with an opportunity. They have the three or four good players, and then a lot of hometown talent, but they never come with enough depth to realistically have a chance in the tournament. We’re going to
have some pretty darn good depth here, with the number of countries we can draw from.”

As for Kopitar: “He’s going to have that chance (to win).”

The tournament gets underway Sept. 17, 2016 in Toronto.

– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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