The Much-Needed Confidence Boost Kevin Wall’s Championship-Winning Moment Could Bring

Penn State hockey has won two Big Ten championships — one tournament and one regular season title — in the past four seasons. A right-shot freshman was responsible for both crowning moments of those title runs.

Liam Folkes’ double-overtime breakaway at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit needs no introduction, but he was joined in Penn State hockey folklore by freshman wing Kevin Wall two weekends ago. Wall scored the Nittany Lions second goal in 31 seconds to cap off a 3-2 victory over Minnesota that effectively clinched the program’s first-ever regular season conference title.

Confirmation of that regular season championship didn’t come for another week after Wall’s goal. The moment, however, made it much more difficult for Minnesota, Ohio State, and Notre Dame to leapfrog the Nittany Lions on top of the Big Ten’s table, so that moment has served as a Liam Folkes-esque confidence boost for the freshman.

“Wall has been one of our better players as of late. It was really nice to see him get on the board,” Folkes said. “He’s been battling his way through the regular season. I even talked to him and said that I was in his shoes once. It’s really good to see him do big things.”

The two forwards aren’t necessarily similar in terms of how they play the game. Folkes’ strongest assets are his straight-line speed and skill, while Wall fits more into the “power forward” mold based on his strength and knack for playing physically. Their freshman seasons, however, are nearly identical.

Folkes bounced in and out of the lineup and struggled with consistency issues throughout the 2016-17 season. Things obviously panned out for the now-alternate captain in the end — especially considering his torrid run of form in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments — and that could be the case for Wall going forward.

“There are a few more correlations [between Wall and Folkes],” head coach Guy Gadowsky said Monday. “Liam, his freshman year, was sitting out a few games. He was a very talented guy who was used to scoring a lot, but he needed to adjust to the pace and habits of Division I hockey. I give Kevin a lot of credit, because he followed along his footsteps by really working hard and making decisions on how to play away from the puck.”

When looking back on Folkes’ Big Ten-winning goal in 2017, Gadowsky attributes the moment to the forward’s hard work toward rounding out his game. That’s also the case for Wall, who put together a really strong effort that culminated with a great shift that finished with his conference-winning goal.

The freshman wing won’t have a chance to show off his newfound confidence in game action this weekend, but he’s already feeling that boost.

“Even in practice this past week, I felt more confident in my game. I’ve been able to make more plays that I used to be able to make,” Wall said. “Before I came [to Penn State], coach Gadowsky called me in and told me a couple things he thought I should work on — speed stuff and acceleration. It wasn’t where I wanted to be when I got here. I knew that’s why I was in and out of the lineup to begin with, but I’ve been doing pretty well with it lately.”

Being able to pinpoint why he was struggling helped Wall immensely as the 2019-20 season progressed, and his next chance to show that improvement will come in the Big Ten’s semifinal round on March 14 at Pegula Ice Arena.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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