Rookie year a blur for Canes' Faulk

Defenseman impresses team with dedication 

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 20, 2012 

— Rookie year flies by for Hurricanes’ Faulk

As Justin Faulk recalls, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Perhaps a fateful one, too.

Growing up in South St. Paul, Minn., Faulk first began playing hockey as a goalie but quickly moved to forward. With his skating ability and heavy shot, it seemed to be a good fit.

Then came a day when he was nine or 10 years old, playing youth hockey, when ... well, let Faulk tell it.

“We had five D-men (defensemen) and an extra forward and I was one of the forwards,” Faulk said. “They asked who wanted to go back and play D. No one said anything and it was like, ‘All right, fine, I’ll go play D.’

“I definitely didn’t want to go play D but no one stepped up, so I figured I would. It’s weird. If we had enough D-men I probably would have stayed at forward. I kinda got lucky there, I guess. It worked out all right.”

More than all right. Faulk turned 20 on Tuesday, and what a 20th year it has been for the Carolina Hurricanes’ rookie defenseman.

A year ago today, he was a freshman at Minnesota-Duluth preparing for the start of the NCAA hockey tournament. Tonight, when the Hurricanes (29-29-15) face the Southeast Division- leading Florida Panthers (35-23-13) at PNC Arena, Faulk will again log major minutes on the back end for the Canes.

“It has all kind of been a blur,” Faulk said of the past year.

Some, including Canes coach Kirk Muller, believe Faulk should be a contender for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. His teammates feel the same.

“You watch him on the ice this year and you almost forget he’s 19 going on 20 years old,” veteran defenseman Bryan Allen said. “He’s a special player. He’s gained some confidence and he’s having some fun with it.”

Faulk had some fun at Minnesota-Duluth last year, as well. The Bulldogs won their first NCAA championship, beating Michigan in the title game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Faulk grew up a Minnesota Wild fan, attending as many games as he could. To play for a national championship, on the Wild’s home ice, was quite the thrill.

With that said, imagine what it was like for him last week to go back to Xcel Energy Center, not for a college game but to play the Wild. With his mother and other family and friends in the stands, Faulk and the Canes rallied Friday for a 5-3 comeback victory.

Faulk had 25 minutes in ice time, with three hits and two blocked shots. The next night, in Winnipeg, he had almost 24 minutes – second only to captain Eric Staal – as the Canes again rallied for a 4-3 road win over the Jets

In 57 games, Faulk leads the NHL’s rookie defensemen in average ice time per game (23 minutes), goals (eight) and power-play goals (five). That should get him some Calder consideration.

Muller has not been hesitant to give Faulk more and more minutes. In some recent games, Faulk and Jay Harrison were seemingly playing every other defensive shift in the third period.

“We talked a month ago about being careful, that it’s a big step, especially for kids coming out of college,” Muller said. “Part of it is physical and the other is preparing yourself mentally to play.

“He hasn’t slowed down. Now we’re saying, ‘He’s a guy with young legs and let’s keep using him.’ He hasn’t dropped off at all.”

Muller joked that the only problem he has with Faulk is getting him off the ice at times, noting Faulk is one of the first to arrive at the rink for practice and one of the last to leave.

“He’s such a professional at such a young age,” Muller said. “He’s really learned to prepare himself.”

If there is a “wall” for rookies, that point where the strain of a long season becomes overbearing, Faulk said he hasn’t hit it.

“I think I’m all right,” he said. “I think it’s part of your job as a professional to make sure you’re ready to go and do what’s asked of you. If you’re asked to play 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, whatever, you’ve got to be in good enough shape to do that.

“I think I’ve done pretty well with the fatigue part of it. The onus is on yourself to be ready for games and ready to go.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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