Penn State Hockey

‘Folkes Hero’: Sophomore relishing clutch play for Penn State hockey

Penn State forward Liam Folkes, seen here last March, celebrates after scoring a game-winning goal against Wisconsin. He scored another another game-winning goal against Wisconsin last week.
Penn State forward Liam Folkes, seen here last March, celebrates after scoring a game-winning goal against Wisconsin. He scored another another game-winning goal against Wisconsin last week. AP

The question brought a grin and chuckle from Liam Folkes.

Does he wish every game was against Wisconsin?

“My last few games against them have obviously been pretty good,” he said Monday, ahead of the No. 13 Nittany Lions’ upcoming home series against No. 6 Ohio State.

Saturday night, he scored a first-period goal, then was the only player to score during a shootout to beat the Badgers. He had a more important highlight last March, scoring on a breakaway in the second overtime to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game.

Folkes said he wasn’t nervous Saturday when he stepped into the middle of the rink during the shootout to go one-on-one with Badgers goalie Kyle Hayton — he was too focused to notice any jitters. Folkes glided up the ice, made a move that caused the goalie to drop to the ice, allowing Folkes to step to his right and flip the puck behind Hayton.

Coach Guy Gadowsky and his staff keep track shootout successes in practice, and that plays a role in whom he selects for the end of the game. He said Folkes was doing well in those stats already, but the sophomore’s success against the Badgers made it an easy call to send him out Saturday.

“We love how he plays,” Gadowsky said. “We love his speed. The way he plays fits really well with what we do.”

Short stay with Team USA

Cole Hults only got to practice twice with the U.S. national team before he was cut as it prepared for the World Junior Championships. The U.S. went on to win a bronze medal last Friday night, but the freshman defenseman was not sore over his early exit.

“I was grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “I only got a few practices in, but I was thankful for me to be there. It’s been a long road for me.”

He also admitted he went into the camp in Columbus, Ohio, with the attitude of having fun and enjoying the experience, and not being hungry to make the team — a learning experience for him in retrospect.

Gadowsky said last week the defenseman’s style is not necessarily eye-catching, especially with such a short tryout period, but his performance is appreciated over a long season.

“I play a very simple game, very effective game,” Hults said. “I don’t do too much. My coach always told me, ‘If you’re not noticed as a defenseman, it’s a good thing.’”

Lessons for Lions

The early weeks of this season also provided some learning opportunities for the coaches. Gadowsky said the coaches, in some ways, tried to do too much and add too many things each week in the building process of the season. When they tried to do less, team members gained confidence and the Lions launched into what is now a 10-game unbeaten streak.

“We were overly excited to add some things to what we did,” Gadowsky said. “In fact, what we learned, even though they were positive things to add, they took a little bit away from what made us successful in the past. We had to narrow our focus.”

Penalty for Hamilton

Defenseman Trevor Hamilton was whistled for a major penalty, and ejected from the game, just 17 seconds into Saturday’s shootout win after a high hit on Badgers star forward Trent Frederic. Gadowsky said Monday he was not expecting any additional penalty from the Big Ten for a hit with the arms and stick near Frederic’s head. The conference has given one-game suspensions for hits to the head in the past.

“By absolutely no means did he target the head at all,” Gadowsky said. “We all watch it, we all watch it in slow motion, and you can’t really see him hit the head, but the reaction looks somehow the head was hit — it’s a really tough play. It’s the right hockey play to play it like he did. Sometimes doing the right hockey play can still result in a penalty.”

Big numbers

Penn State fans don’t know how spoiled they are with the offensive shows they get to see with one of the nation’s highest-scoring teams, including No. 1 this season and last. On Friday night, No. 4 Cornell — a frequent top-20 team and an NCAA tournament qualifier four times just in the last decade — beat Princeton 7-1. It was the Big Red’s first seven-goal game in nearly 10 years. Penn State has five seven-goal games this season alone, and 13 in 5  1/2 seasons.

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @GordonCDT