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Faulk getting crash course in pro game

by Paul Branecky || AHL On The Beat Archive

If you’re having trouble keeping track of Justin Faulk these days, just imagine how he must feel.

Recalled to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes immediately after the Checkers’ win on Oct. 23, a contest in which he logged over 25 minutes of ice time for the third consecutive day, Faulk arrived in Raleigh around 11:30 p.m.

After two practices and no games played, the Hurricanes informed him that he would be returning to Charlotte, but could not do so until after that night’s game against Ottawa, just in case the team needed him in a pinch.

That resulted in a 1 a.m. arrival back in the Queen City, where he returned to practice 10 hours later.

“I’m still trying to catch up on rest a little bit,” said the 19-year-old Faulk, considered one of the Hurricanes’ top defensive prospects. “Hopefully it gets to be a familiar drive, or maybe not, depending on how you look at it.”

Faulk, the 37th overall pick in the 2010 draft, said that he wasn’t told anything specific about why he was brought back to Raleigh in the first place (“I didn’t really care to ask because it’s their decision,” he said), with the team carrying seven healthy blueliners at the time.

However, he did admit he was more surprised by this AHL assignment than his first one, which came after three consecutive appearances as a healthy scratch for the Hurricanes.

While he’d rather be playing in the NHL, Faulk, who won an NCAA national championship with the University of Minnesota-Duluth as a freshman last season, seemed to be taking the decision in stride.

“I know that I’d rather be playing than sitting in the press box,” said Faulk, who averaged around 18 minutes of ice time in the Hurricanes’ first three games this season.

“As a young kid who’s still developing, he needs to play, and he understands that,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels.

When he arrived in Charlotte for his first AHL assignment, coaches told Faulk that he would likely be returning to the Hurricanes after spending the weekend with the Checkers. Upon his latest reassignment, he did not receive any such hints.

“I didn’t hear anything about their plans this time, but for me it’s really the same as last time,” he said. “I’m here to do whatever I can to help the team win.”

This weekend, Faulk’s odyssey only became odder, as the team played another three-in-three set in Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Houston, with grueling travel mixed in. That was yet another new experience for the first-year pro, who has played his first regular-season games at the AHL and NHL levels, scored his first professional goal and played his first three-in-three, all in the last several weeks.

“I had a couple (three-in-threes) in summer camps and things like that, but nothing during a season,” said Faulk, a product of the U.S. National Development Team Program who represented his country in the World Junior Championship last season. “The legs were definitely tired by the end of it.”

He doesn’t figure to get much relief, with Daniels planning to again use him extensively.

“He has that (offensive) element to his game, has a heavy shot, can skate it out of our zone and doesn’t shy away from the physical part,” said Daniels. “He’s definitely a guy that can handle a lot of minutes, but we’re not going to kill him.”

Of course, all of that is assuming that Faulk actually plays on the road trip, and that the unforeseen doesn’t happen yet again. The Checkers have two more three-in-three road weekends coming up, with a trip to Milwaukee, Grand Rapids and Rockford on tap next.

“He’s coming,” said Daniels before this past weekend’s trip west. “Unless I’ve got a message on my phone that I haven’t seen yet.”