RALEIGH — Team selections for the 2014 Winter Olympics will be made soon and the guessing game continues.
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk hopes to be a member of Team USA for the Sochi Games and there are some, including ESPN.com analysts Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside, who believe he will.
Canes captain Eric Staal helped Canada win the gold medal in 2010 in the Vancouver Olympics and can play center or the wing. But is he a lock to make Team Canada again?
If there is an automatic Olympian on the Hurricanes, it might be defenseman Andrej Sekera. He competed for Slovakia in the 2010 Games, has been called Carolina’s team MVP this season by Canes coach Kirk Muller and should be headed to Sochi.
The U.S. team will be announced New Year’s Day in conjunction with the NHL’s 2014 Winter Classic. Faulk said he recently had contact with Team USA management but isn’t sure of his standing.
“I don’t think USA Hockey wants to tip their hand either way,” Faulk said before the Christmas break. “As it gets closer, it pops in your head more than in October and November. It’s so far away at that point that you definitely don’t think about it, but it’s definitely on your mind a little bit more now.
“You try not to think too much about it. I think more about what I can do to be on top of my game and do my best. There’s not much I can control, so I just take it day by day.”
Faulk and Sekera have been the Canes’ top defensive pairing this season. There have been some glitches in recent games, but for the most part they have been solid and dependable.
Team USA general manager David Poile has said some younger players could be chosen for this Olympics with an eye both on the Sochi Games and the future. Faulk, 21, offers youth and NHL experience, and has been a part of several international competitions for Team USA.
Faulk, who participated in the U.S. National Team Development Program, played in the 2011 World Junior Championship. He played for the U.S. in the IIHF World Championships in 2012 and 2013 and was effective on the larger ice surfaces in Europe.
At the 2012 Worlds in Finland, Faulk led the U.S. defensemen with four goals and finished with a team-best plus-9 rating. This year, he topped the U.S. defensemen with six assists as Team USA earned a bronze medal in Sweden.
Faulk said the upcoming selections haven’t been a big distraction as he approaches the middle of the NHL regular season.
“If I play a bad game or a good game I’m going to think about it, but not in that way,” he said. “It’s not like I play a bad game and think, ‘I may not go to the Olympics.’ Not at all. I just focus on turning it around and making sure it doesn’t happen in the next game. Or if it’s a good game, continuing it.”
The Canes, after a three-day Christmas break, face the Penguins on Friday at PNC Arena. On the ice will be a number of soon-to-be Olympians, including the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, whose overtime score for Canada – known as the “Golden Goal” – beat the U.S. in Vancouver.
Canes forward Tuomo Ruutu could again be chosen for Finland’s Olympic team, and Alex Semin for Russia. Forward Jiri Tlusty hopes to represent the Czech Republic.
Looking at Team USA, a general consensus is defensemen Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild, Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers and Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues are headed to Sochi. Paul Martin of the Penguins was considered another safe choice but has been injured.
Faulk, John Carlson of the Washington Capitals and Keith Yandle of the Phoenix Coyotes all are strong possibilities for Team USA.
“Everybody dreams about that and wants that,” Carlson said. “It would be an awesome honor.”
Defenseman Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets was on the U.S. team in Vancouver. He, too, believes the defensive selections for Sochi remain wide open, with a number of deserving players.
“It’s an Olympic team,” Johnson said. “There’s going to be a lot of good players left off. It’s not an easy team to make.”
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