Faulk ready for Olympic hockey start
Posted February 11
Updated February 25
On January 1 after the Winter Classic a little kid skated onto the ice at Michigan Stadium and with millions of people watching, the last name Faulk appeared on the back of a Team USA jersey. And that is when Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk learned he was taking a trip to Russia.
“There was no call, I found out when everyone found out on the TV,” said Faulk.
It is a moment that Faulk got to share with some of his Hurricanes teammates.
“It was pretty funny because I had four or five guys hanging out in my hotel room in DC when it got announced we were watching the game," said Faulk. "It was a good feeling and we were pretty excited.”
During the last Olympic games, Faulk was 17 years old and he watched Team USA capture a silver medal in Vancouver. During this Winter Olympics, Faulk will try to help the United States bring back a gold medal from Sochi, Russia. That is a feat that has not happened in 34 years when the much storied ‘Miracle on Ice’ group of college players pulled off the biggest upset in hockey history. If you do the math, Faulk was not around to witness that, but it is a tale that is well known.
Faulk found out about America’s last gold medal in greater detail thanks to Hollywood and the movie starring Kurt Russell playing USA Hockey coach Herb Brooks.
“You can say ‘Miracle’ was a big movie growing up for me and some of my friends," said Faulk. "The Olympics were always in my mind as a kid especially one of the reasons was because of that movie ‘Miracle’. I have been lucky enough to wear the USA jersey quite a few times so far. Just to have the opportunity to do it at the Olympic level is something even more special and I’m looking forward to it.”
Faulk has known success in his career, winning a national championship playing college hockey for the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He has also won gold, playing for the United States at the IIHF World Under 18 Championships in 2010 and Bronze in 2011 at the World Junior Championships. It is that international experience and how Faulk has excelled in those tournaments that put him on the radar of Team USA.
But Faulk really stepped into the spotlight during the 2012 World Championships, scoring four goals and adding four assists in just eight games. Not only did it catch the eye of the American hockey contingent, but his NHL head coach Kirk Muller was behind the bench as an assistant for the Canadian team and knew that this year it wouldn’t be a surprise for his blue-liner to get the nod to play for Team USA.
“No, no, I talked to Tony Granato in the summer when they called me about him. Was this a guy we should have on our radar? And I said absolutely,” said Muller.
Muller said that because of how steady Faulk plays that he won’t pull you out of your seat, but it is how he plays the game that put him on the roster.
“You know what, you have to really watch him, you have to watch his game, he does all the little things well that you are going to like. So when you watch him play, check him out that way," said Muller. "He had a great year right from the start, so he earned the spot and earned his way onto that hockey team.”
Faulk knew that he had a chance this summer to head to his first Olympic games.
“I guess kind of from the summer that I was in the mix of things," said Faulk. "They told me at orientation camp I had a chance to make the team.”
There were two much publicized articles about the US Hockey Team and its selection process, for Faulk he was a bit relieved that he wasn’t a big part of that story.
“I did read that, there was talk around the [Canes] room for quite a bit. It was an interesting selection process and obviously it was nice to see that I was kind of on the team from early on or at least in a position early on that I had more of an opportunity to make the team," said Faulk. "But at the same time, when I read that I had already made the team. So it really didn’t change my feelings too much on that. Maybe if I went to make the team and I played my way off the team I would have been a little more hurt by that.”
His play this season teamed up with Slovakian Olympic defenseman Andrej Sekera did nothing to dissuade the men picking the US team. In the ironic twist that sports can bring, the US opens up against the Slovaks and the American doesn’t think it is a big deal playing against his defensive partner.
“It will be alright I think. Obviously we know how each other plays and everything like that. Probably a little friendly wager on it and it’s no different than playing against other friends throughout the league I guess. I am lucky that I have some buddies in the league and I get to play against them every now and then," said Faulk. "There is still that friendly competition, I’m sure it will be the same when I go up against him.”
The Olympic game is played on a wider rink (200’ x 100’) than the NHL (200’ x 85’), which provides different challenges for defenseman.
“Teams play a little bit of a different style just because it is tough to play that real physical game when you have fifteen more feet wider to go to try and check or hit somebody. Being in position is a real big thing,” Faulk said.
But the bigger surface and quicker pace might play into the kind of game that Faulk plays.
“You do have more time to make plays with the puck. It is a fast game though because there is more skating," said Faulk. "You get an extra half second or so to make a play with the puck and for me I think that suits my game, I like to skate a little bit and I think I skate well enough for the big ice and that helps me out a little bit.”
The Sochi games aren’t just big for Faulk, making the American squad might be a bigger sense of pride for his mom.
“She’s pretty fired up, it’s pretty funny. Because she says ‘congratulations and I am so excited to get over there’ and I give her some grief like okay you said that fifteen ties already,” joked Faulk.
But on a serious note, the Canes defense is proud to share the moment with the woman that he credits to being the biggest influence on his career.
“It’s good and I am happy she gets to enjoy it with me,” Faulk said.
Even with international experience, Faulk knows the drop of the puck in Sochi will be different than previous times wearing the Red, White and Blue.
“With the Olympics, you have kind of the tops guys from every country or what they think is the best team from every country. So definitely the stakes are higher, it’s more exciting and more to it,” said Faulk. “I think I’ll be alright, just going out there and playing my game and as if it were another game. I’ll try not to get too caught up in the moment that it’s the Olympics. It’ll be a fun experience”
With the career path that he is on, this seems to be the start of many moments on a big stage for the American defenseman. It might not be a 'Miracle' if the United States wins the tournament, but it can be a golden moment and that would be the perfect movie ending.