Houston Aeros defenseman Justin Falk hears it all the time from his teammates, particularly the smaller skill guys.
They tell him how they'd love to be in his size range of 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. Falk has a standard retort. He reminds them how lucky they are to be able to skate like the wind and work the puck as though it's on a string.
"They think the skating comes so easy to tall guys," said Falk, a second-year pro. "I tell them it's a lot of work to develop what I have so far."
This season, Falk and the Aeros defense are growing into their games quite nicely. The parallel development is no coincidence.
Falk, 21, is one of the stay-at-home rocks on a team that is fifth in the AHL with a goals-against of 2.62. That stinginess is one of the reasons the Aeros remain in a battle for a playoff spot in the West Division.
"We are very strong defensively. We take a lot of pride in that," Falk said. "The last couple months, the D-corps has buckled down. I try to be that anchor back there, where they have that confidence to play this guy any time, anywhere. I want to be reliable."
While Falk has now turned his height into a hockey edge, it's also a reason why he pondered turning away from the sport. He was a pitcher in his younger days, one with a lively arm who was good enough to get invited to a Minnesota Twins showcase camp.
But Falk stuck with hockey because he thought prospects move up the chain quicker in that sport. Falk's challenge was that before he could jump on the express train he had to work on matching his coordination and fundamentals with his size.
"For the physical traits, the size, I always had. When I hit my growth spurt, from 13-16, the skills kind of disappeared for a while," Falk said. "Once I moved on to the next level, you realize, 'OK, now I'm big, I have to figure everything out again.' Last year, I'd be in and out of the lineup at times, or wouldn't play in the third period. Now, I can be a go-to guy out there."
The scary part for Houston's opponents is that Falk may be ready to combine a power forward's size with a slippery playmaker's moves. In a contest against Peoria on Feb. 3, he toe-dragged around a Riverman defender at the top of the right point, cut into the slot and snapped a forehand 5-hole for just his second score of the season.
"Obviously, it will put a lot more confidence in me with the puck," he said. "But not to take it too far."