The Carolina Hurricanes’ players and coaches have scattered this week during the NHL’s All-Star Game break.
Eric Staal is spending time with family in Canada. John-Michael Liles and his family are in Vail, Colo., and Noah Hanifin is relaxing in his hometown of Boston.
Justin Faulk will be playing more hockey. For the second straight season, he’s the team’s All-Star selection. He’s in Nashville, Tenn., and will be a member of the Metropolitan Division team that was to have Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals as its captain until Ovechkin pulled out, citing an injury.
Faulk has played 1,479 shifts and 1,260 minutes in 51 games this season, more than anyone on the team. If there’s a meaningful, high-stress moment in a game, the defenseman usually has been on the ice.
Given the workload, would Faulk prefer a few days off from the grind or is he pumped about another All-Star appearance?
Faulk smiled when asked that a few days ago, saying, “I’d probably have to say I’m pumped up.”
“I mean, it’s obviously an honor to go, and it’s a fun event and a fun time,” he said. “I had a good time last year in Columbus and I’m sure it will be a good time in Nashville, too. I have a few buddies coming, so it will be more than all right.
As much as it’s an All-Star game and everyone wants to have fun and wants it to be a good experience, I don’t think anyone is expecting us to go as hard as we do in regular games.
Canes’ defenseman Justin Faulk
“But it’s always nice to get that rest and get that time away from the game. As much as everyone loves hockey and loves being around it, it is good for you to get a break once and a while. Hopefully I can take some time there when I’m not doing anything to reset my mindset and just relax a little bit and get away from it as best I can.”
The NHL has changed things up this year, looking to add freshness and more entertainment value to the All-Star event. The Fantasy Draft and normal All-Star game have been scrapped, and a new All-Star format features a tournament of 20-minute three-on-three competitions, with divisional all-star teams vying for the championship Sunday at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
Faulk joked that it might be a neat thing to take the ice with, say, Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom of the Caps. That was before Ovechkin pulled out and replaced Thursday by the Caps’ Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Metro coach Barry Trotz of the Caps will have Faulk, Kris Letang of Pittsburgh and Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers on the blue line along with forwards John Tavares of the New York Islanders, Claude Giroux of Philadelphia, Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh, Brandon Saad of Columbus, Backstrom and Kuznetsov. Braden Holtby of the Caps and Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils are the goalies.
The NHL has adopted three-on-three overtimes in the regular season and Canes coach Bill Peters often has used two defensemen and one forward. In Nashville, the divisional teams should use two forwards and a defenseman in three rotations.
Faulk said while the new event should be competitive, it may not have the same pace as regular-season overtimes, which have been wildly unpredictable, with end-to-end rushes.
“I doubt it,” Faulk said. “As much as it’s an All-Star game and everyone wants to have fun and wants it to be a good experience, I don’t think anyone is expecting us to go as hard as we do in regular games. That’s my experience with the game.
“But we’ll see how it goes. Three on three is pretty fun but it can get tiring, too.”
Faulk, 23, should be dangerous in the three-on-three given his stamina, puck-handling and powerful shot. He has 14 goals this season, scoring the first 12 on the power play, although he is drawing a lot more defensive attention from opponents and gone the past 15 games without a goal.
Canes forward Kris Versteeg compares Faulk to two of his former teammates with the Chicago Blackhawks, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, veteran defensemen who have been a big part of Stanley Cup championships in Chicago.
“They were really good when they were young, but when they got to 25, 26, 27 was when you could really see what they were as players,” Vertseeg said. “Faulker is still a couple of years away from us seeing what he can really do. But he’s very mature for a young guy.”
Faulk has served as an alternate captain for the Hurricanes and one day could wear the C as captain. Hanifin, who turned 19 this week, sits next to Faulk in the PNC Arena locker room and the rookie defenseman has tried to be a sponge, watching and listening to Faulk on and off the ice.
“It’s been huge in my development,” said Hanifin, the fifth overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. “I’ve gotten time with him on the power play. He’s always giving me tips in the locker room and in practice, telling me how to play certain guys, when to jump in the play and when not to.
“There are so many aspects of the game when he can help me. He has been a great teammate and great role model for me.”
Peters said Faulk could be in the Norris Trophy conversation as the league’s best defenseman by season’s end, and in future seasons.
“He’s going in the right direction but there’s work to be done, right?” Peters said. “He’s still 23 years old and he’s got a real good upside and good future. The offensive instincts and the offensive play kind of fits his game, so that comes natural to him. All the other stuff is a work in progress and we’re going to make sure he’s a well-rounded defenseman moving forward.”
Faulk said while he likes Nashville, he has a buddy who lives there and may stay away from the hubbub downtown.
“It’s a good town,” he said. “Hopefully I can find some places that aren’t on Broadway to hang out with family and friends.”
And relax at least a little before it’s back to the grind.