Coming into the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, there are still some tough decisions to be made at the forward positions for Team USA. It appears now that one of the top candidates to fill a top-six role on the wing for the U.S. might be on the shelf for some time, putting his candidacy in jeopardy.
According to the Minneapolis StarTribune‘s Michael Russo, Mario Lucia broke his left fibula and suffered ligament damage to his ankle in a pre-season practice. Apparently a teammate fell on him during a battle drill. The injury will likely put him on the shelf for three months.
“Hopefully I’ll get back quicker than three months, but I’m in a cast for seven weeks, so there’s not much I can do about that,” Lucia told Russo.
Sounds like a pretty significant injury, and certainly not the way Lucia hoped to kick off his freshman campaign at the University of Notre Dame.
Lucia, a second-round choice of the Minnesota Wild in 2011, is one of the top incoming freshmen in the country, coming off a staggering 93-point performance in the BCHL last season with the Penticton Vees. He was likely to jump right into a significant role for the Fighting Irish and would have bolstered a team with high-end producers like Anders Lee and T.J. Tynan.
The Irish have an incredibly tough first-half schedule with dates against with a seven-game stretch against the likes of Western Michigan, Boston College, Michigan and North Dakota in November. Being without a top offensive weapon is sure to hurt.
Lucia was a strong performer at USA Hockey’s National Junior Evaluation Camp earlier in the month in Lake Placid, spending much of camp with Sean Kuraly and Stefan Noesen. That was Team USA’s top line in at least three of the games in camp. Lucia himself notched a hat trick in a split-squad game against Finland, with the final goal displaying his filthy release.
With some natural goal-scoring ability, Lucia likely had an inside edge on a spot for the U.S. National Junior Team, but the injury and timetable for return put him at risk of being left off.
First and foremost, you have to hope Lucia is able to recover from this injury fully before returning to action. It sounds pretty nasty, and I’m guessing the rehab won’t be easy. It would be a tall order to have Lucia not only back playing, but playing at a high enough level to skate at the World Juniors.
He certainly wasn’t a lock to make the final roster, but one of the stronger candidates at left wing. Without him in the picture, there could be some awfully tough decisions to be made as there just isn’t a ton of depth of offensive skill at that position. After a WJC last year where the U.S. struggled to score with any amount of consistency, Lucia is an option the USA staff wouldn’t want taken away in this fashion.