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Kings’ Christian Folin has mixed emotions in return to Minnesota

Minnesota brings up mixed memories for Christian Folin. They include a bus ride full of doubt and pop star Taylor Swift.

It’s complicated. But it’s mostly positive, and it’s why Folin has an attachment to the state where he adapted to American culture, developed as a player and made his NHL debut, as a member of the Minnesota Wild. He also made friendships that have lasted well into his return here Monday with the Kings.

“I talk to [Wild defenseman] Jonas Brodin every other day, basically,” Folin said. “It will be fun. I obviously circled the date on the calendar when they released the schedule.”

Folin comes back as a simple, hard-edged defenseman who has scratched out a career after he nearly abandoned his NHL dream.

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The story begins eight years ago. Minnesota was foreign to Folin, a native of Sweden, but he gladly accepted a full hockey scholarship to Bemidji State. However, he didn’t have a passing SAT score. Folin retook the test and passed but by then an assistant coach told him he wasn’t in their plans. The scholarship was canceled.

Folin turned to junior hockey, and two months into that endeavor he was traded and found himself questioning his career choices while in transit to join the Austin (Minn.) Bruins.

“I packed everything I had in two hockey bags and got on a bus,” Folin said. “Looking back at it, it was a good experience, but at the time it was really tough. I thought about going home.”

He was 19. It was Christmas break and he went to back to Sweden.

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“I saw all my friends, they were all working 9 to 5,” Folin said. “So I was like, you know what? I like hockey. I might as well go back and try to enjoy it as much as you can.”

Folin ended up at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and caught the attention of Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher. Signed after his sophomore season, he joined Minnesota and got an assist in his NHL debut, at Xcel Energy Center on April 10, 2014.

“It was a fun atmosphere,” he said. “I know all the guys were excited for me.”

Folin played parts of four seasons with Minnesota, living downtown with defenseman Matt Dumba. The adventure ended last summer when he signed a one-year contract with the Kings.

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He has become a safe puck mover in a third-pairing role and on March 1 he had his first three-point game.

“He has a great attitude, great energy in the room,” defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “He’s just kind of fit into what we’re about here on the back end — playing hard, playing quick, physical. He’s blocking shots. It kind of goes unnoticed, but he does a lot of good things.”

Folin has been scratched the last two games in favor of rookie Paul LaDue. But even if he doesn’t play, he’ll see old friends and Wild personnel in the city he embraced.

A Swift fan, Folin saw her in concert at Xcel Energy Center. He tweeted about how much he enjoyed it and Swift favorited it, which prompted Folin to kiddingly call it “the best day of my life.”

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Folin has more serious items on his mind as the Kings open a four-game trip in an otherwise intense building, where the Wild are 24-6-6. The Kings and Ducks are vying for third in the Pacific Division, and a playoff spot, with 10 games left.

“I’m going to enjoy it,” Folin said. “But at the same time, it’s going to be a really important game.”

UP NEXT

AT MINNESOTA

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When: Monday, 5 p.m. PDT.

On the air: TV: NBCSN; Radio: 790.

Update: Minnesota’s Eric Staal, with 38 goals, reached the 70-point mark for the first time since 2011-12. Teammate Jason Zucker has career highs of 29 goals and 56 points. Minnesota last had two 30-goal scorers in 2007-08, with Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston.

curtis.zupke@latimes.com

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Twitter: @curtiszupke


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