When John Carlson was selected to represent Team USA at the 2010 World Junior Championships, his Hershey Bears were gearing up for what would become a Calder Cup championship and the Washington Capitals promoted him to the NHL.
Even though Washington was preparing for a playoff run of its own, and experiencing multiple injuries on the blue line, the team released Carlson to play in the World Junior tournament at Saskatchewan. Carlson ended up winning gold for Team USA with his overtime goal against Canada.
This year, despite starving for wins, the Anaheim Ducks released right wing Devante Smith-Pelly to play for Team Canada in the tournament, which begins Dec. 26. Ducks general manager Bob Murray said in a statement that the tournament would be more beneficial to his development than remaining with a losing Anaheim team.
"This season wasn’t going too great up there, and for a first-year guy, they didn’t want me to be around the negativity," Smith-Pelly told the Toronto Sun.
Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Brett Connolly was also released by his team to play for Canada.
With the precedent set by Carlson, Smith-Pelly and Connolly, hopes were high when the Carolina Hurricanes’ Justin Faulk was selected to Team USA’s preliminary roster for the 2012 tournament in Alberta. The Hurricanes’ season is not going much better than the Ducks’, but with Faulk becoming an increasingly integral component of Carolina’s roster, his tournament appearance was becoming less of a sure thing.
Faulk said he was fine with whatever the Hurricanes decided.
"I will never, ever be disappointed to play for USA Hockey. I’ve played for USA Hockey the last three years of my life and played on the US team for two years. If I get a chance to wear the jersey it’s obviously a thrill for me," Faulk told the Raleigh News & Observer last week. "At the same time it’s amazing to be in (the NHL). You never want to do anything that might cost you a spot on the team or anything. That’s why I’m leaving it up to them to make that decision."
Faulk didn’t have to worry so much about his place with the Hurricanes. The team announced Monday he will not be made available to Team USA.
"Justin has already become an integral part of our team at a very young age," Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement. "We believe it is in the best interest of our organization and his development for him to remain with the Carolina Hurricanes this year."
"As much as we would like him to participate in the (tournament), he is playing as a top-four defenseman with our club at this time," Rutherford told NHL.com last week.
At 10-19-6, the Hurricanes might have been able to afford sending Faulk to the tournament, but some key injuries have left the team scrambling for players to fill the holes in the roster. Faulk remaining with the Hurricanes is not a surprise in light of the concussion to defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who is sidelined indefinitely.
In Pitkanen’s absence, Faulk has had to pick up the slack, averaging nearly 22 minutes a game, more than one minute above second-year defenseman Jamie McBain and veteran Tim Gleason. On Sunday, the Hurricanes got back Jay Harrison, Faulk’s usual blue line partner, from a long concussion-related absence.
With so many men out of the lineup, Faulk had to adapt to the NHL very quickly. The rookie started by scoring his first NHL goal Dec. 9 in a loss to the Winnipeg Jets and now spends quality time on the Hurricanes’ first power-play unit, manning the point with Jaroslav Spacek.
The Hurricanes clearly need Faulk to weather this season’s storm, but the teenager also needs to spend this time of transition with his NHL team. The team is still struggling to put together wins under Kirk Muller; any progress that Faulk has made under Muller could be halted by spending several weeks away from the NHL.
"Some of the young kids, it’s a process of learning. That’s what we’re doing here," Muller told The (Toronto) Globe and Mail of the positive changes he’s seen in Faulk and the team. "Every day we’ve got to learn and take something from it."