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Youngster Faulk Eyes Olympic Roster

10/07/2013, 3:45pm EDT
By Matt Aug - Special to USAHockey.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Youth isn’t always wasted on the young.

That’s certainly true of second-year Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk. Although he’s just 21 years old, Faulk is already well respected in hockey circles by players and coaches alike.

It’s the reason he’s considered a contender to make the U.S. Olympic Team set to compete in the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. It’s also part of the reason why he donned an “A” as an assistant captain for the ‘Canes first game of the season, Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

Although Faulk took the duties from Tim Gleason due to Gleason's injury, Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller was confident in giving Faulk a leadership role. The move paid immediate dividends as Faulk had a pair of assists and was named the game’s third star.

“He’s an NHLer, the type of player who we can put a letter on,” said Muller, one of the league’s top players during his distinguished career before moving into the coaching ranks. “Justin’s a well-balanced guy in 5-on-5 play, but we also use him on the power play and in penalty kill situations.”

Muller said he appreciates the talent that USA Hockey officials have to cull through to select an Olympic squad, but he believes Faulk should be one of the likely eight defensemen the squad settles on.

“The Americans have a lot of choices, but I told [Team USA assistant coach] Tony Granato to give Justin a look,” Muller said. “He’s got a pretty good maturity level and has tons of potential.”

It’s likely Faulk’s days of yo-yoing between the Hurricanes and their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, is over after just two seasons. Now he hopes to yo-yo to the top level of USA Hockey teams as well.

“Everything I’ve done with USA Hockey has been a huge honor,” said Faulk, who helped the Americans capture gold at the 2010 IIHF World Under-18 Championships and bronze during the 2011 World Junior Championships. He also took part in the 2012 IIHF World Championship. “It’s still exciting even though I’ve done it a few times now, although I can say that no one time feels any more special or thrilling than the other.”

There’s still much ahead for Faulk to achieve in hockey, though he can certainly be forgiven for looking back a little bit too. He also helped the University of Minnesota Duluth program win a national championship in 2011, netting eight goals with 25 assists for 33 points in 39 games that season.

“It was a great feeling to finish that off,” Faulk said of winning it all in 2011. “Though I really can’t complain about where I’m at now.”

Neither can Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, who appreciates having someone of Faulk’s caliber manning the team’s blue line.

“He’s definitely a core piece to our defense, although he’s solid on both ends of the rink,” Staal said after a recent practice. “Justin’s also a humble kid who wants to contribute on a nightly basis.”

Staal appreciates Faulk’s toughness, both mentally and physically.

“He already knows the importance of keeping an even keel and shaking things off when necessary,” Staal said.

Staal, a likely key player for Canada in Sochi, can be forgiven if he doesn’t cheer on Faulk too much when it comes to international competition, however.

“Hopefully he doesn’t add too much to the American team,” Staal said, only half-jokingly.

As for the criticism or praise that goes along with being considered an offensive-defenseman Faulk, takes it in stride.

“I try to have a complete game and not focus on any one part too much,” Faulk said. “Other people are entitled to their opinions about my play.”

The most important viewpoint comes from his coach, anyway.

“Justin plays the game the right way,” Muller said simply.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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