Canes’ Faulk aims for world hockey title

calexander@newsobserver.com May 17, 2012 

2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships, Finland and Sweden

USA's Justin Falk jubilates after he scored the game winning goal on extra time during the Group H preliminary game Kazakhstan vs USA in the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, Friday, May 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Lehtikuva/ Martti Kainulainen) FINLAND OUT

MARTTI KAINULAINEN — LEHTIKUVA

Justin Faulk’s short-range goal is a gold medal for the United States in the 2012 IIHF World Championship in Helsinki, Finland.

But long-range? It’s hard to avoid thinking about 2014 and the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Faulk could be quickly working his way into the Olympic conversation. The Carolina Hurricanes defenseman, coming off a strong rookie season, has been a surprise star for Team USA in the World Championship.

“Right now, I’m only concerned about trying to win this tournament,” Faulk said in an interview Tuesday. “Obviously that would be a huge honor, but that’s still a couple of years away. I want to try and keep the fun going this year.”

Team USA has moved into the quarterfinals and faces host Finland today. The U.S. routed the Finns 5-0 Sunday in a preliminary-round game, quieting the home fans at Hartwall Areena.

U.S. coach Scott Gordon said the victory wasn’t as easy as it appeared, noting Team USA executed its game plan perfectly. The Finns, he said, would make changes and force the U.S. to be “firing on all cylinders” Thursday.

“The first game against them was a real good one for us obviously,” Faulk said. “I’m sure they’re a little sour about it ... and they’ll come out hard.”

As for playing the Finns again in Hartwall, Faulk said, “Oh, it should be rowdy. I know the fans will be pumped up for this one. Hopefully we’ll keep playing the way we have and keep things going.”

Few have played better for Team USA than Faulk. He had four goals and three assists in seven preliminary-round games and was plus-8.

Faulk’s biggest goal came with 22 seconds left in overtime against Kazakhstan, giving the U.S. a 3-2 victory. Faulk, 20, scored twice in that game, then added another with a power-play blast against Finland. He was named Team USA’s player of the game.

Faulk had eight goals and 14 assists in 66 games for the Canes this season. He laughed when asked how he morphed into a point-per-game Bobby Orr lookalike in Helsinki.

“I don’t know about that, but I have been able to play with the puck more than I’m used to,” Faulk said, laughing. “I really have had a good comfort level and I’m playing with confidence. I guess it has come from moving the puck more, jumping into the rush a little more.”

Faulk has had some Canes company in Helsinki. Teammate Patrick Dwyer is on Team USA. Goaltender Cam Ward and forward Jeff Skinner are playing for Team Canada, and Canes coach Kirk Muller is an assistant coach on Brent Sutter’s Canada staff.

Forward Jussi Jokinen has been a mainstay for Finland with four goals and three assists. Fellow Finns Tuomo Ruutu and Joni Pitkanen aren’t playing, but Ruutu has served as an unofficial travel host in Helsinki for Faulk and Dwyer.

The U.S. edged Canada 5-4 in the preliminary round in an overtime thriller. Ward was in net, giving up a shorthanded goal to Dwyer, and took the loss.

“That was pretty weird,” Faulk said. “And fun. I really like going against ‘Wardo’ and trying to get the bragging rights. I guess I do for now.”

The U.S. last won a World Championship medal in 2004, when it took the bronze.

“We’ve got a good group of guys who have been fun to be around, we’ve been playing pretty well and we’re not done yet,” Faulk said.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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