Hockey Day Minnesota: Wild’s Folin’s hockey adventure

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Christian Folin was 19, standing with all of his personal belongings at a gas station in Fargo, North Dakota with disappointment fresh in his mind.

He had made his way to Fargo from his native Sweden hoping to continue his career in hockey, setting out on what he would later call an "adventure."

The adventure for Folin, the Minnesota Wild second-year defenseman, has been remarkable.

Standing at the gas station, Folin waited to be picked up by the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League. His future was never more unclear.

"It was like a whole new world basically," Folin said.

Leaving Sweden at 19, Folin couldn’t have imagined the adventure which would bring him to the NHL. In his second season with the Wild, Folin has played in 25 games with one goal and four assists, and is a big part of the franchise’s core of talented young players.

Even four years ago, perhaps no one could predict what his future would hold.

Promised a scholarship at Bemidji State, Folin had left his family and everything he knew in Sweden to come to the United States. Then he didn’t qualify academically after taking the SAT test. Later, Bemidji State would tell him they didn’t want him anymore.

Hockey Day Minnesota 2015 Coverage

A 19-year-old had staked his future on what Bemidji State had offered. Folin didn’t have an opportunity to play professionally in Sweden and he wanted to continue playing.

"To be honest, (Bemidji State) kind of talked me into it," Folin said. "They got me excited about school and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m just going to go over and have an adventure for a year. If it doesn’t work out or I don’t like it, I can always come back.’ So that was my mindset to come over and play."

Learning he wouldn’t play at Bemidji State, Folin’s junior team in Fargo gave up on him, as well, after just 12 games. His rights were sold to Austin and Folin was alone in Fargo with just a phone number to one of the coaches for the Bruins.

"It was really tough," Folin said. "But I think it just made me stronger for the future. It’s part of life, too. You have adversity and you have to just be able to deal with it."

Folin called Austin in what he described as "my terrible English" and he was told to be waiting at a gas station and would be picked up.

Austin was making a trip through Fargo on the way for games in Bismarck, N.D. The Bruins, and coach Chris Tok, met him at the gas station and the next chapter in Folin’s adventure had begun. Even then, Folin didn’t know what was in store for him.

"I remember I was just standing there with my bag," Folin said. "The whole team just ran off, got something to eat, some snacks and I threw all my stuff on the bus. I went in, sat down. I don’t think I talked to anyone on the way there and it was like a six-hour ride. I just sat there the whole time."

His shift to Austin wasn’t easy. It took time for teammates to warm up to him. In December, he had a flight booked back home to visit for Christmas, which required some last-minute rearranging after the move to Austin.

Folin had played four games for Austin before returning home. He saw friends who were working and knew he wanted to keep his dream of playing hockey alive.

"I kind of told myself that, you know what? I play hockey and I do what I love," Folin said. "I don’t have to go to work. I can just show up at practice every day and have fun. So I’m going to go back and if it doesn’t work out, I can always come back. I ended up loving it even though I was staying at the coach’s house. It was a great experience. The team really welcomed me with open arms and some of my best friends to this day are from the time in Austin."

HDM 2015 TV schedule

9 a.m. Hockey Day Minnesota  
10 a.m. Luverne vs. St. Paul Johnson At Holman Field, St. Paul
Noon Hockey Day Minnesota coverage  
1:30 p.m. Hill Murray vs. St. Thomas Academy At Holman Field, St. Paul
3:30 p.m. Hockey Day Minnesota coverage  
5 p.m. Minnesota vs. Wisconsin At Mariucci Arena
7:30 p.m. Wild Live presented by CenturyLink  
8 p.m. Minnesota Wild vs. Arizona Coyotes At Xcel Energy Center
10:30 p.m. Wild Live Postgame presented by CenturyLink  
11 p.m. Cretin-Derham Hall vs. Duluth Northern Stars (Girls; tape delayed) At Holman Field, St. Paul

Slowly, Folin’s transition was made easier by Tok and goaltender Keegan Asmundson. Folin roomed with Asmundson on the trip to Bismarck and he lived with Tok and his family in Austin. Tok mentored Folin and taught him more of the North American game.

Folin said Tok was instrumental in his development, including moving his feet and playing more "North" instead of "East-West," according to Folin.

"The sacrifices you can only imagine that he had to give up just to stay here, let alone playing on a new team, getting sent down from Fargo so to speak," Tok said. "That stuff’s not easy. But his motivation and his will to achieve success . . . It’s hard to instill that in people and when you do see that in people, you know that they’re special."

With Tok’s help, Folin would have a big second season with Austin, where he had 11 goals and 20 assists in 54 games. He drew the attention of colleges while participating in an NAHL top prospect tournament. A few days later, he committed to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

After sitting initially, Folin started to find his way with the River Hawks and the team won the Hockey East Tournament championship and advanced to the Frozen Four. Folin had six goals and 15 assists in his first season with UMass-Lowell.

Teams from the NHL, including the Wild, started coming around. Folin, River Hawks coach Norm Bazin and Folin’s agent set out a plan. Folin would meet with NHL teams before his second college season and then avoid contact during the season to avoid distractions, even changing his cell phone number.

"I remember we were sitting up in the stands and we had just put up our new banner," Folin said of his meeting with Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher. "He said, ‘If you want to stay here four years and you want to win more banners, just go ahead and do that. But after those four years, keep us in mind.’ I think that was something really special and really stood out after all my talks.

"And I wanted to come back here with my connection with Austin and all my friends in the area too. When it came down to it, it was a pretty easy decision."

Folin went on to score six goals and pass out 14 assists in his second season and was highly sought as a college free agent.

"Not only did he come over to North America not knowing anybody, coming to the junior team and then getting cut a few weeks in and then left, really, on the road and another team picks him up, another league; to stick with it and do what he did, it’s just pretty impressive and tells you he’s pretty strong mentally and was obviously pretty mature as a young guy," Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. "He hung in there, earned a scholarship and the story moved on from there pretty quickly."

What a story it’s been.

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