It is a story every hockey fan knows. The fire that lit Herb Brooks’ belly started when he became the final cut before the 1960 Winter Olympics; watching his country win the gold without him from his living room couch. A fire that could not be extinguished for twenty years. A fire that gave us the Miracle on Ice. If Justin Faulk is beginning to feel a similar fire igniting, we can trace the point of origin back to Sochi.
The Carolina Hurricanes youngster was one of the early defensive locks during the Team USA selection process, according to ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside. There was never any debate; never a second thought. In a defensive puzzle that GM David Poile and his brain trust could not agree on how to put together, Faulk was a right-handed piece that everyone agreed fit right into place.
Yet, as the Americans advance to the semi-finals to face Canada and their group of talented goal scorers, Justin Faulk has still not had an opportunity to put on the USA crested Nike sweater and touch his blades to the Sochi ice. And while the Carolina Hurricanes benefit from the rest and experience Faulk is receiving, it is a shame for a player who could have helped his country.
Justin Faulk Could Have Helped Team USA
While Faulk is the youngest member of Team USA at 21-years of age, he is far from inexperienced in international play. He participated in the 2010 IIHF World U-18 Championships, scoring the gold medal-winning goal against Sweden. He has also played in the 2011 World Junior Championships, and the 2012 and 2013 World Championships, leading defensemen in points during both tournaments.
Justin Faulk has a knack for scoring in international play. He has a flare for the dramatic. This is a quality that could have been utilized against a talented Canada roster in the semi-finals, had Faulk been given the opportunity.
One can hardly blame head coach Dan Bylsma for utilizing the “if it aint broke, don’t fix it” mentality heading into the knockout stage, especially with a defensive core that only surrendered four goals during the qualifying rounds. But there were opportunities to play Justin Faulk earlier in the tournament, especially against the injury-plagued Slovenia squad that saw Ryan Miller and Derek Stepan getting their chances.
Instead, Faulk joins only three other skaters in Sochi to record zero minutes of ice time during this tournament, and the only American to not get his shot.
Carolina Benefits from Faulk’s Lack of Playing Time
Count Carolina Hurricanes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford as one who is not too worried about Justin Faulk’s lack of ice time in Sochi. Sure, he may feel for the player from a competitive standpoint, knowing how badly Faulk wants to represent his country. The GM may even see the missed opportunity for national exposure for his stud defenseman.
However, Rutherford and the rest of the Carolina Hurricanes organization see the bigger picture. Their prize 21-year old is practicing with some of the best players in the world, gaining valuable experience in leadership, and staying healthy for the ‘Canes playoff run.
While Faulk may not be suiting up for games, he is still practicing and interacting with the team on a daily basis and is learning from some of the best leaders in hockey. Team USA boasts eight skaters (Brooks Orpick, Ryan Suter, David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, T.J. Oshie, Zach Parise, and Paul Stastny) who wear a “C” or an “A” for their respective NHL teams. The opportunity to learn from these teammates and have some leadership rub off on the youngster is immeasurable to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Every General Manager and coach in the National Hockey League watch each play in the Olympics with bated breath; as their stars get hit in open ice, battle in the corner for lose pucks, and scrum in front of their goaltender to keep the puck out of the net. However, Jim Rutherford does not have this worry with Faulk. He has the peace of mind to know his defenseman is safely watching from the stands, ready to come back to Carolina for the second half of the season. He knows Faulk will be well rested and ready to play.
For most players, the Olympic break meant either suiting up for their country and adding more minutes of hockey to their legs, or a nice vacation and opportunity to rest. Justin Faulk gets the best of both worlds for Carolina. The ability to stay fresh on the ice, competing in practices, combined with the opportunity to rest and stay healthy for the playoff run.
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Herb Brooks sat, watching with torn feelings, from his home in Saint Paul, MN as the USA won the gold. His 1960 television set helped blur the red, white, and blue uniforms. It muzzled the sound of the blades scraping across the ice. It eliminated the smell of the sweat his team was pouring out in the fight night in and night out.
Somewhere in Sochi, Faulk is not so lucky. He can smell the ice and the sweat. He can hear the chirping of the opposing teams, and the subtle sounds of the games he loves. He can see the looks on his teammates face as they battle for gold. He can do nothing about it.
And the fire burns.
AJ Soucy covers the Carolina Hurricanes for The Hockey Writers. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or twitter @Doc_Soucy.