The backyard rink at the Wilcox house measures roughly 40 feet by 20, and was the daily hangout for neighborhood kids. While the majority of players come and go, called home for supper or other household chores that 10-year-old boys do, there was one youngster who seemingly never leaves.
His name is Justin Faulk and he’s representative of that old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Because today, 14 years later, in a very different rink located some 900 miles southwest of that backyard in South St. Paul, Minn., that’s still the case for the 19-year-old Faulk.
Even as many of his Carolina Hurricanes teammates have already showered and are exiting the locker room, Faulk remains on the ice at the Big Bear Ice Arena in suburban Denver, skating and shooting and sweating.
You get the distinct impression that he would never leave the ice if the team bus weren’t idling outside with teammates ready to head back to hotel.
There’s something in Faulk that drives him to be the best, to continue to improve even as he’s reached the highest level of hockey. It’s the reason that whenever you read about Faulk or talk to people who’ve played with him or coached him that his drive is always something mentioned.
“He’s just the type of kid who wants to keep getting better and better,” says Hurricanes’ head coach Kirk Muller. “Part of that’s maturity and part of it is that he has high expectations [for] himself to perform.
In the few moments before the bus departs, Faulk looks at the line of posters hanging in the lobby of local players who made it and directs his cell phone to snap a couple of photos.
A teammate walks by and asks whom the picture’s of. Faulk responds that it’s of some youth hockey buddies, Nick Shore and his brother Quentin.
They’re friends and fellow members of the National Team Development Program, the program he credits with pushing his game to the next level.
“We worked on everything, every day,” says Faulk of his experience at the NTDP, where he set the record for goals in a season by a defenseman with 21. “It’s not necessarily working on one aspect of your game — [you’re] still so young and still haven’t developed at that point.”
And considering what the next few years held for him, that there was a switch that was flicked on and never went off.
It’s the thing that drove him to a bronze medal with his U.S. teammates at the 2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo, N.Y., and to an NCAA Championship with the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
And it’s the reason that he’s enjoying a stellar rookie season in the NHL, that he was one of the 12 rookies invited to the All-Star Weekend and that he’s in contention for the Calder Trophy for the league’s top rookie.
Yet no matter what he’s accomplished so far in his hockey career, Faulk continues to work the same way he was when he was younger, an attitude summed up best when he speaks about his experience thus far in the NHL.
“It’s one thing to be an exceptional talent at certain levels,” he says. “Some people are exceptional at the college level or the Junior level, so they can kind of go out there and go through the bases or go through the motions and get by. And I don’t think that’s the case for any players here.
“When you’re playing in the best league in the world out there, it’s not easy, it’s never easy. …Top to bottom, every team’s got players that can play in the league. It’s tough every night. Especially when you’re playing against top line, you’ve really got to push yourself. You can never take a shift off.”
Fortunately for the Hurricanes, that’s never an option for Justin Faulk.
Photos Courtesy of Getty Images
Morgan Hill, Calif.
Holly Hopwood’s life is defined by balance. In the water, inching her feet over the surfboard to keep from plunging into the water. On the ice, keeping upright while fending off opponents. And most remarkably, keeping careful watch over her diet. With Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, she has to. She must monitor her glucose almost constantly, up to 12 times a day, making sure that her meals include sugars digested at different rates to keep her going through her practices and games.
Still, diabetes has not slowed her down, in the water or on the ice. She was a member of the San Jose Junior Sharks that captured a USA Hockey National Championship.
According to Holly, “It’s something you live with, but it doesn’t have to be something that defines you.”