When Justin Faulk
was asked to play for Team USA in the upcoming International Ice Hockey Federation’s annual World Championship, his decision was simple.
So simple, the word “decision” might not even be applicable.
“It was an easy ‘yes,’ and I don’t think I could ever say ‘no,’” he said. “It’s an honor every time to put on the jersey, and I’d do it every time they ask.”
A native of South St. Paul, Minnesota, Faulk has been involved in the USA Hockey program for the duration of his hockey career – from youth hockey to the National Team Development Program to World Juniors and now the World Championship.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from USA Hockey,” he said. “Everything they’ve done for me and everything they’ve done for a lot of other players, it’s been huge.”
Faulk points to his time with the National Team Development Program in 2008-10 as the most crucial in his USA Hockey upbringing. In those two years prior to attending the University of Minnesota Duluth, he competed against collegiate and international opponents, setting the single-season record for goals scored by a defenseman (21) in 2009-10. He also led the team that season with 14 power-play goals.
In 2010, as a member of the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team, Faulk won a gold medal in the IIHF’s World U18 Championship. Faulk netted the game-winning goal in the gold-medal game against Sweden.
The next year, he helped Team USA capture the bronze medal in the IIHF World Junior Championship. He was second among team defenseman in scoring with 4 points.
Now, he has his first shot at medaling with the team at the World Championship. Currently enjoying the down-time in Minnesota, he leaves for Europe on Saturday. Teammate Patrick Dwyer will too be donning the red, white and blue, a first for the 28-year-old forward.
Also joining Faulk will be former Minnesota-Duluth teammate J.T. Brown. Born in High Point, N.C. but raised in Minnesota, Brown signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning in March after UMD exited the NCAA tournament in the second round. According to Faulk, he is good friends with Brown, and the two are living close to each other this summer.
His other teammates?
“I don’t know a ton of them,” he said. “But I’ve played against a lot of them.”
Playing in the World Championship will cap off what has been a whirlwind couple of years for the now 20-year-old defenseman, who hasn’t had much time to take it all in.
“It all starts to set in slowly. Going from the U.S. team to school to World Juniors to winning a national championship to Charlotte for a playoff run to [Carolina] and now the World Championship,” he said. “It takes some time for that to really sink in. The national championship didn’t really sink in for awhile. It all takes some time, but it’s a good feeling to sit there and think about it all.”
Faulk and the Hurricanes fell short of being able to add National Hockey League playoffs to his resume, at least for this season. President and General Manager Jim Rutherford said Faulk’s emergence as a mainstay on the blue line has given the team an opportunity to “strengthen and restructure” its defense.
Whether it was Jay Harrison for most of the season or Tim Gleason in the final week, Faulk settled into his role with veteran’s poise.
“They helped me in the defensive zone a lot,” Faulk said of his partners. “I think with those two, they’re quick to point things out to me if they see a little thing I need to do or we need to do as a pair to be successful on the ice.”
While Faulk has no specific plans – other than winning a gold medal for his country – over the summer, he understands the training necessary for him to come back strong for his sophomore campaign.
“I think it’s a good time to work on your off-ice strength, use that as much as you can to be better on the ice the next season, and be in shape and ready to go for camp,” he said. “I want to be coming to camp ready to handle whatever work I receive.”
That work will likely consist of facing and shutting down the League’s best players, a task he was routinely given as this past season progressed.
But for now, his focus is on Team USA.
“To have an opportunity to win a gold medal and play for Team USA, every time I get that opportunity I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I feel proud to put on the USA jersey. It’s just an honor every time I get selected to play for Team USA.”