Justin Faulk was in North Carolina at noon Friday, about to fly to the Twin Cities, and he could hardly wait to come home. So, for every question the Carolina Hurricanes rookie defenseman was asked, he had one of his own.
How do those mohawks look on the Minnesota Duluth players this year? (That depends.) Is it true the Gophers are sporting the bleach blond look this spring, just like UMD did last year? (Yes.)
Get the idea the young Mr. Faulk, 19, is already a bit nostalgic about his college years.
Make that his college year.
"This is pretty exciting," said Faulk, a former UMD star, via telephone. "I'm pumped. I hope everything goes well for [the Bulldogs], so they can watch me play [Saturday]."
A year ago Faulk, who hails from South St. Paul, was a key member of the Bulldogs team that won the national championship on the Xcel Energy Center ice. Not quite a year later Faulk will play there for the first time since the title. And the timing couldn't be better. Before the 'Canes' flight took off, Faulk had already arranged to get to the UMD-Denver WCHA Final Five game semifinal, hoping to arrive during the second period.
"That's the goal," he said. "To see the guys."
UMD's two-overtime loss Friday aside, just about everything else this season has been a positive for Faulk, who has established himself in the NHL before reaching 20.
After the Bulldogs won it all last year, Faulk sat down with UMD assistant coach Derek Plante to talk about the future. "He was straight with me," Faulk said. Plante said the big goal in college hockey was the title, and Faulk had accomplished that. It was time for Faulk to do what was best for himself.
So Faulk, who had been drafted by Carolina with the 37th overall pick in 2010, decided to go pro. He was on Carolina's roster for the first few games this season before being sent down to the teams' AHL affiliate. But not for long. Called back up in mid-November, Faulk has averaged nearly 23 minutes of ice time.
In 54 games Faulk has eight goals and 11 assists. Among rookie defensemen, Faulk ranks first in ice time per game, tied for first with two game-winning goals and second -- behind another Minnesotan, Jake Gardiner of the Maple Leafs -- in points.
None of this really surprises Faulk. He did, after all, go to camp last fall expecting to make the Hurricanes. Still ...
"It's been good," he said. "I can't say I expected myself to be playing this much, this many minutes."
But that's what he has done, once acclimating himself to the pace of NHL play. "Everything is so much faster here," he said. "You have to be ready. But, once you get used to that, that's when you start getting comfortable playing your game. It's been a lot of fun. But it took a while for it to sink in that I was actually playing in this league."
Faulk's game matches strong defensive play with the ability to move the puck. He also has a scoring touch, as his five power-play goals show.
Faulk will have a lot of family and friends in the arena for Saturday's game. And he knows it will be emotional when he takes the ice at Xcel for the first time since winning a national title.
"Every time I think about that the memories come flooding back." He said. "There was nothing better than winning it in Minnesota. I still think about it all the time."