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Hull scratched from U.S. lineup Add to ...

Brett Hull has been yanked from the U.S. World Cup of Hockey lineup.

It's only temporary but it has to sting the pride of the soon-to-be Hockey Hall of Famer to be a healthy scratch against Slovakia.

After all, it was while playing at the University of Minnesota-Duluth that his hockey career took off. He established ties in the state that remain strong. But buddies showing up at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday night wouldn't see the third-leading goal scorer in NHL history on the ice.

"We're trying to get some fresh legs in and give people who look tired a rest," explained coach Ron Wilson. "Three games in four nights is not easy and Brett has struggled a little bit.

"The bottom line is we need to play better and we need better performances from a lot of people."

The 40-year-old right-winger left the arena with defenceman Brian Leetch after a team meeting. They weren't smiling as they walked to the team hotel a few blocks away. Hull declined to speak to reporters.

"It just shows it doesn't matter who you are," said right-winger Bill Guerin. "We're playing to win, and Hullie knows that.

"Adjustments we're making are nothing against Brett. He's been one of the cornerstones of USA Hockey for years. It's just one game and he understands that."

Having lost 2-1 to Canada and 3-1 to Russia, Wilson felt the demands of the compressed schedule necessitated the insertion of fresh legs. Hull, centre Craig Conroy and right-winger Brian Rolston were dropped from the forward lines. Jamie Langenbrunner, Bryan Smolinski and Jeff Halpern were asked to fill the openings.

Ken Klee returned to the defence in place of John-Michael Liles. In goal, Wilson rested Robert Esche, who kept scores close in the first two losses, and gave Rick DiPietro a start.

Wilson dismissed a suggestion that dropping Hull was meant to prick the rest of his players to greater efforts.

"We're trying to have a lineup that is fresh and skate and that's all this is about," he said. "This is an opportunity for the people who haven't played - Bryan Smolinski and Jamie Langenbrunner in particular - who have been very good players in our league, to jump in there and grab the brass ring and not let go. We're trying to find some chemistry and something that might work."

Hull was the leading U.S. point-getter at the 2002 Olympics. In this tournament, he has had five shots on goal without scoring. Another right-winger, Tony Amonte, hasn't managed a shot on goal. Yet, he survived the purge while Hull did not.

"I'm a little bit surprised," said Amonte. "He's a powerful guy, especially on the power play, but we've got to get things going here. We need a win under our belts."

Conroy's reaction to being benched was a team-first one.

"You knew something was going to happen," he said. "We were awful (Thursday) and changes were needed.

"You're never happy to be the one sitting out but, hey, if it helps the team .-.-. there's nothing I can do about. All I can do is wish the guys well.

"Right now, our confidence isn't at an all-time high. We've got to get much, much better and turn things thing around."

The griping, restrained so far, will become loud if things don't turn around.

Meanwhile, left-winger Richard Zednik got into his first game with Slovakia. He was unable play against Canada earlier this week because he was rushed to hospital in his home NHL city of Montreal with food poisoning or a bad case of flu.

The doctors couldn't be sure, he said. The last food he ate before becoming ill was fish.

"My God, it was the worst feeling," he said. "You lose all your strength and feel weak."

Zednik still isn't 100 per cent but coach Jan Filc said he'd use him Friday night.

Minnesota Wild star Marian Gaborik was excited to return to his home rink.

"It's a little bit weird to be in the visitors' locker room," said Gaborik. "But that's the way it is while the World Cup is going on."

Gaborik smashed his stick to smithereens on the ice during the game in Montreal. He wanted to clarify the incident. It didn't happen because he was so frustrated that he had to take it out on his stick, he said. He was just trying to get rid of it.

"I got a slash on my stick and it was broken already," he said.

 

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