By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
— Teddy Blueger called representing his native country of Latvia in last year’s World Junior Championships a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Looks like it will be twice in a lifetime at least.
Blueger, the Minnesota State men’s hockey freshman center, this week was selected for Latvia’s pre-tournament camp and is expected to play for Latvia during the Dec. 26-Jan. 5 tournament in Russia.
“It’s definitely special,” said Blueger, who is a native of the Latvian capital of Riga. “I hope we do better than last year. I hope we make it to the medal round.”
Latvia’s camp begins on Dec. 10, but he has permission to stay with MSU through its Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against Nebraska Omaha, which takes place Dec. 14-15.
He will miss the Mavericks’ Dec. 28-29 games at the Connecticut tournament and likely the Jan. 4-5 home series against Providence.
But the experience of playing against the best Under-20 players in the world should help him and Minnesota State.
“You always get a better player coming back,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said.
Hastings, who was an assistant coach on the 2003 and 2005 U.S. World Junior Teams, said Blueger is coming off his best game of the season. He had three assists, all on the power play, in Saturday’s 6-1 win over Bemidji State. Blueger now has two goals and six assists in 14 games.
When assessing his play, Hastings said, it’s easy to forget that Blueger, a second-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer, just turned 18 years old in August.
Hastings continued to praise assistant coach Darren Blue as well as former MSU coach Troy Jutting for the work they did in recruiting Blueger out of Faribault’s Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and how that process continued after Hastings was hired.
“It says a lot about Teddy Blueger and his family that, with the coaching change, he stayed committed to Minnesota State,” Hastings said. “That speaks a lot to what’s important to that family and their commitment.”
Blueger has four games to play before leaving for camp, including this weekend’s home series against Alaska Anchorage.
“For sure, we’ve got a pretty good stretch going,” he said. “I hope we can keep working hard. I hope we can keep climbing up the standings. We’ve got a good group. We have to play hard and play smart like the last couple games.”
Meanwhile, five other WCHA players were named to the U.S. team’s preliminary roster. The list includes Minnesota’s Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei, Wisconsin’s Jake McCabe, North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi and Michigan Tech’s Blake Pietila. Ten other players on the roster are also college players.
Last year in Canada, Latvia went 0-4 in pool play but went 1-2 in the relegation round to stay alive for this year’s tournament. Blueger had a goal and two assists in the tournament.
“Last year was fun,” Blueger said. “But at the same time, we didn’t do very well. It’s was definitely special ... playing in front of 18,000 people in the (Calgary) Saddledome. It was a special atmosphere.”