Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 12/27/11
It can be a gamble, but NHL General Managers don't like to look at it that way. When an underage NHL player is cleared to play for Canada in the World Junior Championships, his parent club expects a deep tournament run that culminates in a treasured opportunity to represent one's country. The experience gained from skating in a competition that features the best teenage players in the world can boost the player towards an encouraging second half, furthering their development. Such wasn't the case for promising Anaheim Ducks rookie Devante Smith-Pelly, who broke his left foot while blocking a Teemu Pulkkinen shot in the second period of Canada's 8-1 win over Finland in Monday's tournament opener. The 19-year old, who was not invited to Canada's selection camp as an 18-year old last year, will miss the remainder of the tournament and is likely looking at four to six weeks of recovery time. "I've blocked shots before and as soon as it hit me I knew right away that something was wrong," Smith-Pelly said to reporters in Edmonton on Tuesday. "I tried to go again and I just couldn't even stand on it. I was pretty upset right away because I sort of knew." While Canada will forge ahead as tournament favorites buoyed by a deep offensive group, the same can't be said for the Ducks. Though they had already recalled forwards Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmieri and Jean-Francois Jacques earlier this month, the club will now be without Smith-Pelly's tenacious forechecking and physical play for longer than expected as several players who began the season with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch will have an opportunity to log important minutes. "This is a very unfortunate injury for Devante," Anaheim General Manager Bob Murray said in a statement. "We anticipated him playing a prominent role for Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior tournament. Although this is a big loss for Team Canada and the Anaheim Ducks, we fully expect Devante to return to full health this season." Though his statistics don't jump off the page the right wing has three goals, five points and a minus-10 rating in 26 games the teenager's ability to apply himself physically as a rookie while thriving along the boards, driving towards the net and forechecking indicate an adept grasp of the basic fundamentals of serving as a National Hockey League power forward. The "plumbing" that he's been able to contribute to the Ducks' efforts has freed space up for his teammates while garnering respect in the locker room. He had been rewarded with an opportunity on the team's power play over the past month; the injury was sustained when he had been following through on a hustle play, covering the point man and making sure the puck didn't get through to goaltender Mark Visentin. It was the second consecutive year that Canada lost a key player due to injury current team captain Jaden Schwartz suffered a broken ankle while colliding with a Czech player in a 7-3 win in group play in last year's tournament. The Canadians had to settle for a silver medal, and Schwartz understands Smith-Pelly's current run of emotion as he remains with his teammates, though unable to contribute on the ice. "It's bad timing. It really is, but I'm glad to hear he's sticking around the team," Schwartz said Tuesday. "I know he knows this, but there's worse things in life than an injury. I know he's going to get through it." Canada takes to the ice Wednesday against the Czech Republic in advance of a New Year's Eve tilt against the United States. The tournament's gold medal game will take place at 5:00 PT on Thursday, January 5. For Smith-Pelly, the disappointment will subside if his fellow teammates can bring the gold medal back north for the first time since 2009. "Heartbreaking way to end my tournament, but I know the guys will do the country proud regardless. Thank you everyone for your kind words," he said on Twitter. NOTES: The Ducks' 3-2 win in San Jose Monday ended a 13-game road winless streak (0-9-4); their previous road win was a 3-2 win at Minnesota on October 27. The club's three road wins are tied with Columbus for the league-low. Anaheim recalled J.F. Jacques from the Syracuse Crunch prior to Smith-Pelly's injury Monday. The 6'4, 220 pound left wing has 11 goals and 19 points in 20 games with the Crunch and no points in three games with the Ducks. Anaheim opens a six-game homestand Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks; Colorado (1231; 5:00), San Jose (14; 7:00), the Islanders (16; 7:00), Columbus (18; 5:00) and Dallas (110; 7:00) also visit Honda Center. The Ducks' January 12 game at Calgary will now begin at 6:30 pm PT; it had originally been scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm PT.
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