Justin Falk meet Justin Faulk. Justin Faulk meet Justin Falk. Yes, we know this reads like a bad David Letterman skit, but the NHL has two Justin Fa(u)lks these days.
The one without the letter u in his surname is a 23-year-old defenceman from Snowflake, Man. He plays for the league-leading Minnesota Wild. The one with the letter u in his surname was raised eight hours down I-29 and I-94 in South St. Paul, Minn. He is a 19-year-old blue-liner who plays for the 28th place Carolina Hurricanes.
"It has been brought to my attention a few times that there is another one out there," the Canadian Falk said. "We've never met. Maybe that will happen later this year."
A meeting between Falk and Faulk almost occurred in the AHL playoffs last spring. But Faulk's Charlotte Checkers were swept in the Calder Cup conference finals by the eventual champs, the Binghamton Senators. Falk's Houston Aeros beat the Hamilton Bulldogs in seven games in their conference final, but lost in a six-game final to the Senators.
The Hurricanes visit the Wild on Mar. 17. Although, there are no guarantees that both will be with their NHL teams then.
In an ideal world, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Canadian Falk would have recovered from an upper-body injury that has kept him out since Nov. 27 in time to play in Winnipeg against the Jets tonight. But he'll have to wait a game or two before he's ready to return to game action.
Collapsing barns and trophies
Falk grew up playing hockey on a frozen pond on his family's farm near the U.S. border, where his father Larry and uncle Alvin raised cattle until the 1997 blizzard caused their barn to collapse. Now it's a grain farm.
He cheered for the Jets and even landed a Teemu Selanne autograph on his one and only trip to see the old Jets play. When the Wild played Selanne and the Anaheim Ducks earlier this season, Falk told his childhood idol that he once got his autograph when he was eight years old.
"He told me 'man, I'm getting old,'" Falk said.
Falk was good enough to earn a spot in junior with the Spokane Chiefs and won the 2007-08 Memorial Cup. You may remember that championship game. It's known for when the Memorial Cup trophy split in half during the celebration. You can see Falk on the left, standing on the blue line, in some footage of when the trophy broke.
The next season the 2007 Wild fourth-round choice joined the Wild's AHL affiliate in Houston. The Aeros lost in the championship, but Falk gained enough confidence to start this NHL season with the Wild under his former AHL coach, 38-year-old Mike Yeo.
Yeo has brought the Aeros success to the NHL.
"I'm not surprised [Yeo's] doing so well this season," Falk said. "He is very detailed and goal orientated. He may be young, but he knows how to motivate players and he has the respect of everybody in the dressing room.
"It was a good situation for us to play for a championship last year. We would have liked to win, but somebody has to lose. It probably has made some of us younger guys hungry and that has helped the [Wild] organization."
Putting the 'U' in Faulk
The other Faulk, a 6-foot, 205-pound offensive defenceman, knows about championships, too. He was raised in Wild country and grew up 15 minutes from the University of Minnesota campus. But instead of staying at home to play for the Gophers, he decided to go to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, 2 ½ hours away.
Faulk was a fan of Minnesota-Duluth because his cousin Marco Peluso played there in the early 2000s. So for Faulk, it was an easy decision of where to play collegiate hockey.
"Some of my friends gave me a lot of crap that I chose [Minnesota-Duluth] rather than the Gophers," Faulk said. "But we put an end to that last year."
After two years in the U.S. junior development program in Ann Arbor, Mich., Faulk arrived in Duluth last season already having been selected by the Hurricanes in the second round of the 2010 NHL entry draft.
Minnesota-Duluth won the school's first U.S. college championship last spring. Faulk was named to the Frozen Four all-star team and broke all of Tom Kurvers' school records for a freshman defenceman.
A few weeks later the title had been won, Faulk found himself with Charlotte in the playoffs. Under new Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller, Faulk has played his best hockey this season. He scored his first NHL goal in Winnipeg last Friday in a game that saw him play season-high 24 minutes and 17 seconds.
But Faulk still could be loaned to play for the U.S. at the world juniors later this month. The Hurricanes have until Christmas to decide.
"We'll see," said Faulk, who played for the U.S. junior team last year. "I haven't been told one way or another."
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