-- If star forwards Marian Hossa
and Patrick Kane
weren't injured, Chicago Blackhawks
rookie forward Jeremy Morin
probably would be playing for the United States later this month at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y.
However, Hossa and Kane now are out for an indefinite period with lower-body injuries -- along with forward Fernando Pisani
, who has an upper-body ailment.
That means Morin might continue doing what some in the Chicago media have dubbed "The Rockford Shuffle" -- making the 88-mile ride between Chicago and Rockford of the American Hockey League to fill in for the injured Hawks.
Morin has 2 points in six NHL games and scored his first goal in Wednesday's 5-3 home win against the Dallas Stars
. The Blackhawks clearly like Morin's ability and feel the 19-year old left wing is on the cusp of becoming an NHL regular.
It has to be tempting to keep Morin in Chicago, but for now the Blackhawks plan to let him attend a training camp for the U.S. junior national team that starts Dec. 17 in upstate New York.
Could Morin, who won a gold medal with the U.S. at last year's WJC, make the U.S. roster and then be called back to Chicago?
"That's something that organizationally, I don't know that we've discussed it to that extent," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville
said earlier this week. "Right now, we'll see how it all plays out."
Technically, Morin was sent back to Rockford on Thursday, but he's expected to be recalled before the Hawks play Saturday at the San Jose Sharks
The chance to go for a second straight World Juniors gold medal is a great opportunity, but so is playing in the NHL.
Hawks teammate Jake Dowell
played for the U.S. at the 2004 and 2005 World Juniors, and can attest to how much fun playing in that tournament is. Dowell especially can relate to playing as the defending champion on home soil -- his 2004 team won the gold medal -- the first U.S. team to do so -- and finished fourth in 2005 when the tournament was in Grand Forks, N.D.
"I haven't really talked to (Dowell) about it too much, but it's kind a big opportunity for USA Hockey to maybe go back-to-back," said Morin, who had 2 goals, 7 points and a plus-4 rating in seven games last year in Saskatoon. "Never done that (repeated) before, so it's definitely a big year for us."
As would be putting on the red, white and blue sweater again.
"I've gotten an opportunity to do it quite a bit, and every time it's the same experience," said Morin. "You get goose bumps every time the national anthem's being played and it's something you really can't explain."
"That's something that, organizationally, I don't know that we've discussed it to that extent. Right now, we'll see how it all plays out." -- Joel Quenneville
Quenneville compared playing in the World Junior Championship for young hockey players to 3-year-old racehorses getting to compete just once at the Kentucky Derby. However, that's not the fairest comparison, since Morin played last year and won a gold medal.
"I think everybody has some opinion on (what to do)," Quenneville said. "I would say most players would probably want to play in the NHL, especially if it's their initial opportunity. That's probably a layup on that answer. At the same time, organizationally you have to look at. How much is he playing and is it going to be better for him long-term to get that once-in-a-lifetime chance?"
Morin said he's just waiting to see what happens and will go with the flow no matter where he winds up. The Hawks also have another top prospect, defenseman Nick Leddy
, invited to the U.S. camp.
Leddy is playing his first season of professional hockey in Rockford, after leaving the University of Minnesota early. Leddy played six NHL games earlier this season, but unless the Hawks have a slew of injuries to their blueliners, there likely won't be the same debate surround his release for the tournament.
"It's a great tournament," said Morin. "Last year winning the gold, this year it's in Buffalo on home soil. It's going to be a great experience, so we'll see what happens."