STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Some players would panic and try to figure out what move would make them the game's hero of the night, relying on a favorite fake or a staple in their shootout repertoire.
But then there's sophomore Liam Folkes, who already delivered quite a few dramatic moments during his young Penn State hockey career. Folkes, who scored on a breakaway last March in the second overtime to down Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game, also scored last Saturday night during a shootout against Wisconsin, adding to a career that's quickly become filled with these types of defining moments.
"I was kind of thinking that I wanted to shoot the puck originally, but the goalie kind of took it away and then I faked the shot so he went down and it opened up my move to go left-right and put it in," Folkes said this week ahead of No. 13 Penn State's weekend series against No. 6 Ohio State. "I’d say I'm pretty calm. I don’t really go in there scrambling with emotion. I just go in there and do my thing."
Folkes' thing is built around blazing speed, the kind that he inherited from trackstar parents, with his dad, Carl, a member of Canada's 1988 Olympic team where he was part of the 4 x 400-meter relay while Folkes' mom, Ali Evanoff, was a distance runner. Carl was Liam's dry land trainer as Liam and his twin brother grew up in hockey obsessed Toronto, Ontario.
"He’d always say you can’t hit what you can’t catch so I think that’s been on my mind every single time I’m on the ice," Liam said of his dad's advice. "I'm just glad that he’s gifted me with my speed."
Penn State hockey coach Guy Gadowsky is too. While Gadowsky said the staff decides who is going to take shootout shots and the order in which they'll do so ahead of games based off of practice results, keeping an eye on the flow of the game and a player's history against a certain opponent is an important factor. Folks against Wisconsin was a no brainer for Gadowsky, who criticized himself this week for not getting Folkes in a shootout opportunity earlier this season.
“We love how he plays,” Gadowsky said. “We love his speed. The way he plays fits really well with what we do."
It's also given Penn State goalies the occasional fit in practice as Folkes will draw upon an arsenal of moves that stem from a childhood love of watching YouTube videos of Alex Ovechkin and Danny Briere. Making sure his own teammates aren't catching onto his tendencies helps him improve to the point that when all eyes are on him and he's cruising down the ice he's as calm, cool and collected as ever.
"He handles it well," said goalie Peyton Jones. "He’s a good guy who works hard so I think he earns everything he gets. But, it’s definitely nice for him to get another one against Wisconsin."
Folkes is also part of a Penn State team that is among the most diverse in the Big Ten, a group with nine players from outside of the United States, one that jokes with Nikita Pavlychev and Denis Smirnov to let them in on the conversation when the two hold the occasional chat in their native Russian language. Folkes is the first African American player on Penn State's roster since the Nittany Lions became a Division-I program, something that doesn't matter in the least bit to Gadowsky who recalled Folkes' future teammates giving the head coach two thumb's up after Folkes' recruiting visit because he was such a perfect fit at Penn State.
That fit continues proving to be one that could make this No. 26 a fan favorite when the Lions are in some of their more important situations the rest of this season. He could be primed for another clutch opportunity this weekend when the Buckeyes come to town and Penn State puts their 10-game unbeaten streak on the line.
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