Liam Folkes developed a high hockey IQ in his Toronto driveway, but the inherent athleticism came from his track star parents.
Penn State’s freshman forward from Toronto (and noted Drake fan) gives the top offense in college hockey an added layer of speed and attention to detail.
“When I was younger, I always played hockey in my driveway with my brother Tre, and it’s pretty much all I’d watch on TV. I’d go on YouTube and watch my favorite players, like [Alex] Ovechkin,” Folkes said. “I’m actually family friends with Wayne Simmonds and Chris Stewart, so I definitely watched them growing up. I’d say my favorite player was Daniel Brière.”
On the recruiting trail, head coach Guy Gadowsky didn’t have to comb Canada long before hearing all about the Scarborough standout.
“He’s been well known and a great player in Ontario — everybody knows about Liam Folkes,” Gadowsky said. “He’s extremely explosive, a great skater, very low to the ice. He’s really quick.”
Gadowsky highlighted a particular moment in the Ohio State home series a few weeks ago where Folkes put his innate knowledge of the game on full display.
“There was a very special play where he was really aware on the bench that we turned the puck over high while his right winger Andrew Sturtz was changing. Before anybody could realize what was going on, he was already changed, on the ice, and skating to negate an odd-man rush.”
Per Canadian spirit, Folkes has lived and breathed the sport from birth.
“You just can’t teach those things,” Gadowsky said. “It just so happens you put that IQ in an explosive body. I think he’s a guy we’re only scratching the surface with.”
Prior to enrolling at Penn State, Folkes played for the Brockville Braves of the Central Canada Hockey League, where he notched 118 points in 109 games.
It’s easy to see where Folkes gets his athleticism. Both his parents were members of the Canadian national track team. His father, Carl, competed in the 4×400 meter relay at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, while his mother, Ali Evanoff, ran long distance in the Pan American Games.
Lost in the shuffle of Folkes’ dazzling debut season is the fact that he’s the first black player in the program’s five-year Division I history.
“It’s pretty cool,” Folkes said. “All I can do is just embrace it.”
Folkes and the rest of a sterling Nittany Lion freshman class put the Big Ten on notice early. In total, 11 first-year players have seen the ice through 26 games this season. Six are regular contributors. There’s a familiar Ontario presence on the roster, too. His classmates Kris Myllari, Brett Murray, and Sean Kohler all hail from the same province.
In 20 games of action, Folkes has recorded five assists and three goals, one of which made even the most diehard #CawlidgeHawkey fans rub their eyes in astonishment. His game-winner the first night of the Michigan State home series, an unreal shot from behind the goal line, earned the No. 3 spot on the NCAA’s Top Plays of the Week.
But rather than rest on his early success, Folkes is zeroing in on the aspects of his game that need some polishing.
“I noticed that I have to be a lot better in the defensive zone, because over the past I’d just rely on my offensive skills,” Folkes said. “That’s one thing that I really need to focus on.”
The Nittany Lions got back on the right skate with a series sweep at Wisconsin last weekend. Up next, they have a huge rematch with Minnesota on Friday at 6:30 and Saturday at 8:00 during THON.