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Jets get Thorburned

GST-line cornerstone out at least three weeks; team discussing replacement

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He has flashed a deft scoring touch and a willingness to drop the gloves. He is one of the loudest voices in the dressing room and adored by his teammates.

But now Chris Thorburn -- the popular cornerstone of the Winnipeg Jets' grinding/checking GST line along with Tanner Glass and Jim Slater -- is going to be lost to the team for its most-critical stretch of the season.

Head coach Claude Noel confirmed after an optional skate at MTS Iceplex on Saturday the gritty right-winger will be out for at least three weeks with a 'lower-body' injury suffered early in Friday's 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames.

"He's going to be out for awhile. We've got to check it out today, but it looks like it's three weeks or longer," said Noel. "That line has had a true identity on our team and a true value on our team. There's a real role there for that threesome. They feed off each other and drive our team in some areas.

"There's no doubt that leaves a void, but it's a fill-able void."

Thorburn has four goals and six assists for the Jets this season, but his contributions go beyond the point totals. He wears an assistant captain's 'A', leads the team in fights and was a key part of the team's checking line.

Noel said the coaches will decide in the next few days if Antti Miettinen or Eric Fehr will replace Thorburn in the lineup and on the checking line or if the injury means a shuffling of the deck. It's also possible the team may summon a player from St. John's to fill Thorburn's role. Worth noting: the versatile Patrice Cormier had three goals and an assist in St. John's 6-1 win over the Hershey Bears Friday night.

"We have people in house, but it's going to depend... that's a different role, a different line, so it's a good question," said Noel. "How do you restructure your lines? Do you? How do you do this now? Do we go four lines, do we play 3 1/2? How are we going to juggle our forwards?

"It opens the door for opportunity for somebody else and we could double-shift somebody else that you want to get to get more minutes like (Blake) Wheeler, (Evander) Kane. Those guys have been doubling up in the last few games. The games are of heavy magnitude now so you try to win the games... I don't care if you go with eight forwards. You've got to win the games."

Meanwhile, the situation regarding Dustin Byfuglien -- who did not take the pre-game skate but then not only played but led all skaters with 27 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time Friday -- remains a bit of a mystery. And Noel's cryptic answer on the issue Saturday offered few clues.

"It's an injury that we had to deal with different elements that were out of our control," said Noel. "That's what threw a curve at us and I'll just leave it at that. He's fine. We'll have to assess some things and see how he is. Is he going to practise Monday? We don't know. There are some things we're going to have to manage. This is the injury stuff you get in pro sports. You have to manage it. You're on the road and you have to deal with some things that come up that you don't have control over. Sometimes curveballs are thrown and you're not sure what's going on."

There is some potential good news on the injury front: defenceman Zach Bogosian participated in Saturday's optional skate and will practise on Monday with the team. Noel is hopeful he'll be back in the lineup when the Jets next play again on Wednesday at the MTS Centre against the Dallas Stars.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 11, 2012 B2

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