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Blue Jackets focus on community during Virtual Sports Report

Foligno, Dobbs join Greater Columbus Sports Commission's online series

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

As Nick Foligno says, at the moment, he's not living his daily life as captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

Instead, he's "dad, principal and janitor" right now as he spends his time at home with his kids, including his eldest, 6-year-old Milana, who is finishing up the school year.  

Foligno is in the same boat as everyone right now, living a new normal thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking on the Greater Columbus Sports Commission's Virtual Sports Report on Thursday, Foligno said he understands the world we're in at the moment but also misses his Blue Jackets teammates, who are now scattered across the world during the NHL's pause. 

"It's funny, for us we go from seeing each other every single day to when this all happened, it's an abrupt end to the season," he said. "Navigating through that at first was hard. I think we were all missing each other. We tried to get on FaceTime calls with each other and actually did one as a group, but it was a disaster. It was everybody yelling into the phone, so we realized quickly that wasn't going to work." 

But as much as Foligno wishes he was still battling on the ice right now, he has a good perspective on where things are at the moment. He also understands that it's a unique opportunity for people in the world to become more connected with their families, their communities and each other.

Also appearing on the online video meeting, Blue Jackets senior vice president/chief marketing officer Kathryn Dobbs talked about the importance of that message in such uncertain times.

"We've looked at how we can entertain, engage, stay connected with our season-ticket holders, our fans, our community partners," Dobbs said. "It's really, really important to us that people know how much we appreciate them and letting everyone know at this point that we're all in this together."

Foligno also stressed how the Blue Jackets players appreciate the fans and the Columbus community at the moment. For more on what the CBJ captain had to say, here are some of his comments from the call including his thoughts on John Tortorella, the team's goalies and more. 

On handling the new normal of the pandemic: "This is bigger than sports, what's gone on. I think the information that we're getting, I think the organization has done an outstanding job of informing us about what's going on. And then we've tried to stay connected with our fan base. It's so important for us as players to support the communities that we're in. We're all residents of Columbus. We're all part of this community, so we're trying to make sure people realize we want to help and support in any way we can, whether that's videos we can send to encourage people or whatever, we want people to know the support they give us on the ice, we can reciprocate that now and try to give back that way. This has given a human aspect where a lot of times we're in the spotlight, well right now we're just like everybody else, concerned and worried about people and wanting to see us get back to full health. Hockey has taken a back seat, which it should right now. We're excited about the prospect of getting back in front of our fans when it's safe, but right now our main priority is just everyone to take care of themselves and encourage them to do that. 

On staying in touch through the pandemic with his family, including his brother, Marcus Foligno of the Minnesota Wild: "It's been special. Him and I don't get to talk much throughout the year with how busy our schedules are. Just being able to talk with him, he's got a little girl, and more the family aspect -- I'm big on family as you can probably tell. To be able to reconnect with everybody in that way, it's just been so nice to see him ad see him being a dad and get the videos and get to see her. And my sisters as well, I have two older sisters who have kids. My dad is up in Sudbury. He's sad, he wants to see all his grandkids. He doesn't care about us kids I've learned, he just wants to see his grandkids. It's nice, we get on Zoom calls and see each other a little bit more than we normally would. We're trying to make the most of it." 

On Blue Jackets players trying to stay in shape both mentally and physically: "I think anyone, whether you have a history of it or not, mental health is so important during this time as well. There's days where you feel depressed, and it's amazing how just by looking at how daunting this has been for some of these days now where you don't see an end in sight or what's going on, I think for everybody as humans, that's one thing I've been worried about with my teammates, so I've tried to stay connected with those guys. I know they're all working out. We have an incredible commitment in our team. First of all, we're all afraid of John Tortorella, so I think everybody wants to make sure we're in good shape if we do come back, but that's something I never have to worry about with our guys. I think they're all taken that pretty seriously at the moment. It's just the mental health side. There are some guys who live alone, so I'm glad they got a chance to go back near family. Those are all really important things I think everyone deals with. Whether you're an athlete or anyone else, we all have those human emotions, and it's so important right now to continue to focus on your mental health and do what you need to have it at the forefront right now." 

On what fans don't know about Tortorella: "He's actually a softie. No, but I think the misconception about Torts is he's this brash, abrasive guy. He cares so much about this team. I think that's what you respect about him. Sometimes he does get emotional and it can be hard to hear, but he is the first guy to come to you if he thinks he stepped over the line. He just wants to make you better. He wants to make this organization better. That's his goal as a coach, and I think you respect that. For us, we love playing for him. That's not a lie. Every guy I ask, they love the passion he coaches with, and it rubs off on us. It's made us who we are. Look at the way this team has been impacted by Torts. Obviously the players go out and do the job, but he has spearheaded a lot of this. We really respect what he's done for us." 

On potentially returning as part of a 24-team playoff system, as has been discussed as a option to restart by the NHL: "There's so many scenarios. The hardest part is the speculation … but I think it's hard to speculate right now. There's so many steps to get to that point. I think it would be premature and immature on our part to say, 'This is how it's going to go.' I think the 24-team (playoff) makes the most sense in a lot of regards, but how that would all work is still being decided." 

On deepening a bond with goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins this season: "What I always appreciate about goalies is they are the guy that is the last line of defense, so all the glory and all the shame comes on them a lot of times, the pressure that's put on them, especially a young goalie. We have two great young goalies with Korpisalo and Merzlikins. I just love them. If you know them as people like I do, Korpi is one of the funniest guys I know, and Elvis has this persona of a rock star, but he's a kid right now trying to figure his way out in the league. I want to make sure I put an arm around those guys to make sure they feel as important as they are to this team." 

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