Days after being hit in the face with a puck and having to leave the game, Justin Faulk has a chance of returning to the Checkers’ lineup on Thursday.
The 20-year-old defenseman, who established himself as a full-time NHL player as a rookie last season but is back in the AHL during the work stoppage, returned to practice on Wednesday wearing a full cage shield. Following the skate, coach Jeff Daniels reiterated the player’s day-to-day status.
“He’s just got to be comfortable playing,” said Daniels.
Due to the nature of the injury, Faulk, sporting a handful of stitches underneath the cage, should be able to do all of the things that allowed him to make the NHL’s All-Rookie Team with Carolina last season and post a team-leading 14 assists this season. The only issue will be protecting the area in which the puck hit after deflecting off his stick, causing enough immediate pain and bleeding for him to immediately leave Sunday’s game against Rockford in the first period.
“The final decision will be made tomorrow, but as of today I think I’ll be alright,” said Faulk. “If you get hit, it’s going to hurt either way.”
Wearing the cage could be a bit of an adjustment, but it’s something he’s done before, including his stint as a youth player in the U.S. National Team Development Program and in his one year of college hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
“I’ll have to get used to it again, but it’s only a year and a half removed from when I had to wear it in college,” said Faulk, which is something of a necessary reminder given his rapid adjustment to the pro game since then.
Should Faulk be unable to suit up for the first of back-to-back games against the Lake Erie Monsters on Thursday, the Checkers would still be able to dress six defensemen. Michal Jordan was a healthy scratch on Sunday, though Rasmus Rissanen was the one singled out for post-practice work with Assistant Coach Geordie Kinnear on Wednesday.
With the Checkers looking to break out of a four-game losing streak as they continue their 10-game home stand, the presence of Faulk, their only sure-fire NHL player, would come as a welcome boost.
“(Lake Erie) is a team we haven’t seen yet with a new coach and some new players, but they play a lot of close games,” said Daniels. “Still, it’s got to be about us bouncing back.”