Former Bruins defenseman Folin makes NHL debut
April 11, 2014
Former Austin Bruins and NAHL defenseman Christian Folin holds the puck from an assist he picked up in his NHL debut with the Minnesota Wild on April 10th (cover photo by USA Today).
Former Austin Bruins defenseman Christian Folin, who at this time two years ago was competing and playing in the NAHL, made his NHL debut last night with the Minnesota Wild as they picked up a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues at home.
Folin also tallied his first professional point in the game. The Gothenburg, Sweden native assisted on Kyle Brodziak‘s second goal of the game at 0:58 of the third period, giving the Wild a two-goal lead over the Blues.
The Wild gave Folin plenty of time in practice to get acclimated to their system and waited for the right time to start the defensemen, Thursday night was the night. Folin was on the ice for 19:26, including 2:00 on the power-play and 2:38 on the penalty kill. The former Austin Bruins and UMass-Lowell River Hawk posted a +3 rating with a single hit and no penalty minutes.
It has been a long and interesting road for Folin who could have quit playing hockey four years ago.
He was 19, from Sweden and had little understanding of English. He so wanted to become an NHL’er, though, so he headed to Minnesota, having been recruited to play hockey at Bemidji State.
One problem: “My SAT wasn’t good enough,” Folin said.
He had a tough adjustment in the USHL and was traded to the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) less than two months later. This came four days after Bemidji State said, “We don’t have a plan for you next year either, so you’ll have to find a new school.”
Shy, and not used to American culture, the teenager was dropped off at a gas station alongside Interstate 94 with his entire life packed into two suitcases and a hockey bag.
The Austin team bus picked him up en route to a weekend series in Bismarck.
Four years later after that bus ride, the 23-year-old made his NHL debut Thursday night for the Wild against the St. Louis Blues.
“I’m pretty amazed,” said Folin, a 6-3 defenseman who signed as a free agent out of UMass-Lowell last week but is not eligible for the NHL playoffs. “It’s been a long journey. But I got a lot of help, especially from [Austin coach] Chris Tok, who really taught me what I needed to work on and how my game would best fit the North American style … and the coaching staff at UMass-Lowell. They really prepared me for this.”
Tok never saw Folin play. It was Austin’s first year in the NAHL. The Bruins were short of players, so when Fargo didn’t want Folin anymore, Tok purchased him for $1,000.
To put that in perspective, Folin signed a two-year, $1.3875 million contract with the Wild last week.
The first impression Folin made was when he got on that Bruins bus. He didn’t know anybody. He didn’t know where he was going. Yet, he wasn’t freaking out. “He was just real calm. He’s not a guy that gets rattled,” said Tok, who played college hockey at Wisconsin. “Europeans, when they come over, they need a break-in process. The game’s on a smaller sheet, it’s played quicker. He came from a different culture and was thrown into the fire here and wasn’t ready right away. That’s normal.”
Folin moved in with Tok; his wife, Melissa; and their then-6-year-old son, Easton. “He lived in the basement,” Tok said. “The first day, it snowed and he’s laying down. I go down there and say, ‘Got?anything to do today?’ He said, ‘Nothing.’ I said, ‘Well, the driveway’s full.’ So he got his snow clothes on, went outside and shoveled the driveway.”
Tok said, laughing, “I tease him now, ‘If you need your driveway shoveled, I’ll come up and do it.’ ”
Folin made an instant impact, scoring 12 goals and amassing 41 points in 87 games over two years. Yet there wasn’t much recruiting interest. College coaches thought he didn’t skate well enough, he didn’t break pucks out well enough, he wasn’t strong enough. “I’d be like, ‘What do you want him to do, he’ll do it,’?” Tok said.