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Faulk points the way for USA; Assist Extends Streak <br> Two-way defenseman helps rout Slovakia

Justin Faulk is a pure defenseman. He has played the position since his age was in the single digits. He likes the responsibility of keeping opponents away from the net, loves the ability to start offensive plays.

His numbers, though, scream forward. He puts up point totals that would thrill centers, scores enough goals to inspire jealousy among wingers.

That two-way game is a bonus for Team USA. It helped produced a rout Tuesday night.

Faulk was part of a power-play unit that scored three times against Slovakia, keying a commanding 6-1 victory in HSBC Arena. The Americans moved into first place in Group A with a 56-18 shot edge, two goals by Kyle Palmieri and three points from Charlie Coyle.

"Them taking stupid penalties kept putting us on the power play, and that's what killed them," Coyle said. "We just took advantage of it and beat them down with that."

The game was a mismatch from the start, with Team USA recording more goals than Slovakia had shots in the first period. The Americans scored twice on 22 attempts while holding Slovakia scoreless on just one opportunity. The U.S. team built a 6-1 lead and 43-11 shot edge through two periods.

"We were executing our system, getting pucks deep and getting right on their 'D.' That allowed us to keep the puck out of our zone and get as many shots as possible," said forward Emerson Etem, who was booed throughout the game because of a negative comment about Buffalo he posted on Twitter. "It's loud and you can definitely hear it. It's all fun. It's a hockey town, so it's expected, but I had a blast out there. It didn't affect my play, it didn't affect the team's play. That's most important. The guys just came together, and it was a hard-fought win."

Faulk assisted on Coyle's second-period power-play goal. He has a point every time he's pulled on an American sweater this month, the only team member to accomplish the feat. He had a goal and an assist during his two exhibition games and scored again when it counted, getting the second goal during Team USA's 3-2 overtime victory over Finland in their world junior opener.

"I'm not really focusing on putting up points so much as I am just playing well all-around, doing whatever I can to just help the team win," Faulk said Tuesday. "If that means scoring a couple goals on the power play, I'm more than glad to do it."

The 18-year-old may not focus on putting up points, but that's certainly a byproduct of his game.

The University of Minnesota-Duluth freshman leads Bulldogs blue-liners with six goals and 15 points in 18 games. Last year, he set a U.S. National Team Development Program record with 21 goals, including 14 on the power play. That came one season after pacing the defensemen on USA Hockey's under-17 team with 12 goals and 33 points in 64 games.

"I just move the puck pretty well as a defenseman, and I can shoot the puck pretty well from the point, too," Faulk said. "I just make the easy play and things will happen."

Faulk, a second-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes last June, tries to pattern his game after Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks. The All-Star defenseman controls plays in his zone and makes them in the opponent's end, something Faulk enjoys as well.

"You quarterback everything back there, whether it's defensive zone and you have to control where players go, talk to your teammates, make sure they're in the right positions," Faulk said. "You're moving together as a unit back in the D-zone, and when you do that it allows you to break the puck out easier. Offense will come from that, assists and goals will come from that."

Faulk's offensive numbers don't come at the expense of his defensive chores. He leads Minnesota-Duluth with a plus-13 rating.

"Faulker is a good two-way defenseman," said U.S. coach Keith Allain, who isn't surprised the defenseman's points have come with the man advantage. "That's one of the things that he brings to the table, so it's nice to see him contribute."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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