A Bulldog from the beginning

  • Article by: BRIAN STENSAAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 6, 2011 - 10:15 PM

Justin Faulk heard the ribbing from his Gophers-loving friends, but he knew Minnesota Duluth was the place for him.

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Minnesota Duluth goalie Kenny Reiter loosened up during Wednesday’s practice at Xcel Energy Center.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Some kids around these parts grow up skating on ponds pretending to be their favorite NHL stars. Others have big dreams of some day slipping on a maroon and gold sweater.

That second scenario describes what Justin Faulk did as a youngster. But his sights were never on donning a Gophers uniform. He always wanted to be a Bulldog.

"From the start I wanted to go to UMD," the freshman defenseman from South St. Paul said Wednesday after Minnesota Duluth wrapped up its Frozen Four practice at Xcel Energy Center. "A month after schools were able to contact me, I decided to commit. I went on a visit right away. It was easy for me."

Faulk's cousin, Marco Peluso, skated for the Bulldogs from 2002 to '05. That was just about the time Faulk first started receiving good-natured chiding from his friends about his rooting interests.

"It was kind of funny because a lot of my friends were big Gophers fans growing up," he said. "I'd always hear it from them -- Gophers, Gophers -- pretty much every kid from the Cities wants to be a Gopher, so I had to deal with that and still do a little bit. But it's fun."

His desire to leave has been the Twin Cities' loss.

Faulk played only two seasons of high school hockey at South St. Paul before joining the U.S. National Development Under-17 team in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 2008 and spent last season with the Under-18 team there.

In his first collegiate season, Faulk has amassed 30 points -- the second most in the country among freshmen defensemen .

That number matches the UMD first-year mark that Tom Kurvers -- who went on to win the Hobey Baker Award in 1984 -- set as a freshman in 1980-81.

"As a coaching staff, we were looking for him to come and make an impact. I have to say, I have not seen a freshman come in and done the things he's done," Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said of Faulk. "He's made a huge impact despite the high expectations."

That goes beyond what is seen from the bench and in practices.

Mike Montgomery, Faulk's senior defensive partner, said he was pleasantly surprised.

"I had never seen him play, but he blew away all my expectations," Montgomery said. "You can put the guy in any situation and he performs."

Just then, goaltender Kenny Reiter chimed in.

"Yeah, and his shot hurts, too," he quipped.

Faulk, a second-round draft pick by the Carolina Hurricanes last summer, said he hasn't had his slapshot clocked since he was in middle school. But he certainly uses it to his advantage. Six of his goals have been scored on the power play.

"I try to let it go all the time but especially on the power play," he said. "Just put it on net, and if it doesn't go in, hopefully one of my teammates is there for the rebound."

Jokesters

The mood in the Minnesota Duluth locker room Wednesday was jovial.

A handful of players tossed a football around the room as the media was allowed in. A short time later, senior defenseman Chad Huttel used a foam finger novelty trinket to fake-interview teammates a few locker stalls over.

"We try to take care of business on game ays, but for the most part we like to joke around, and Coach says we play better when we're loose," junior defenseman Brady Lamb said. "This might be a good sign."

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