This UNO goalie looks a lot like the Mavericks' netminder of two seasons ago.
That's right: John Faulkner is off to a solid start through two weekends of the hockey season, with a 2-0 record, 1.50 goals-against average and .903 save percentage for the 2-2 Mavs.
“It's important to get off to a pretty good start,” said Faulkner, a senior from Sarnia, Ontario. “It's crucial to have some success right away and build a good confidence level.”
Faulkner struggled at times last season, when he went 5-9-2 with a 2.93 GAA and .886 save percentage. He lost the No. 1 job early in the season, nearly disappeared for a while, then re-emerged to split time down the stretch.
It was a steep drop from his sophomore season, when he started every game and played nearly every minute. He was 20-15-2 with a 2.56 GAA and .908 save percentage, tied for the national lead with six shutouts, and earned third-team All-WCHA for an NCAA tournament team.
“I don't think a lot of the reason we weren't as successful as we wanted to be last year was his fault,” UNO coach Dean Blais said.
Last March, Faulkner went through Senior Night ceremonies. With hotshot prospect Anthony Stolarz set to join the program, there was speculation that Faulker had played his last home game in a UNO uniform.
And he might have, both Faulkner and Blais said, if a professional opportunity had come his way.
But both coach and goalie said the Senior Night recognition was a chance for him to celebrate with defensemen Kyle Ensign and Matt Smith, who were part of the same recruiting class.
“If he'd had a chance to play in the American (Hockey) League, he might have done it,” Blais said. “But I think the NHL figured they'd probably have a lockout year, and they didn't want to sign too many guys.”
So Faulkner decided to come back as a fifth-year senior.
“We know this one is definitely the last year,” Faulkner said, laughing.
Faulkner, 24, said he continued to sharpen his skills in the offseason.
“A lot of little things, a lot of little details,” he said. “Lateral movement is one thing. (Strength coach) David Noonan worked us pretty hard in the summer, just to put on a little more muscle. Playing with the puck. Making sure we're sharp on our angles.”
There's more, too. Faulkner is focused on his focus.
“Sometimes in a quiet game your mind starts getting a little lazy, and it's something as simple as not being square to a puck where it's costing you a goal against,” Faulkner said. “And reading the game, being a student of the game. You've got to read plays and make sure you're anticipating plays. That gives you a chance to react better, make life easier on yourself.”
There were plenty of times last season when Faulkner appeared on top of his game: back-to-back wins over Alaska-Anchorage with one goal against in each, a 5-1 win over Bemidji State, a 2-1 win over North Dakota.
Other times he would play well, but not quite well enough — like the 3-1 loss to St. Cloud State that ended the season, when he stopped 35 of 37 shots. (the final goal was an empty-netter).
“There was a time where he was probably giving up a goal (per game) that he could have probably had,” Blais said.
So far this year, so much better.
Faulkner stopped 17 of 18 shots in the 5-1 season-opening win over Army and 11 of 13 shots in Friday's win over Northern Michigan.
He is kicking himself for one of the goals he gave up against Northern Michigan, Blais said.
“But our forward down there let the guy go,” Blais said. “But that's the kind of kid (Faulkner) is — he takes responsibility for anything that goes into that net, no matter how many breakdowns there are.”
UNO has been stingy defensively through four games, allowing only 20 shots on goal per game against Faulkner and Stolarz, who has started the two Saturday games.
Blais said Faulkner has served as a “great” mentor to the 18-year-old Stolarz, even though those two and Dayn Belfour are competing for playing time.
“He's a great student, very good in the weight room, just a great kid with a great attitude,” Blais said. “Goaltenders want to play every game. He sees Anthony and Dayn working hard every day. And he's never questioned, not once, why he isn't playing.”
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