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Nick Foligno happy to be home with the Blue Jackets

Daughter Milana continues her recovery from health issue

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Nick Foligno is more than happy to be back with the Columbus Blue Jackets and ready to draw into the lineup tonight vs. Nashville. 

First, he's a hockey player, and for the captain to be away from the team for as long as he was required an adjustment for Foligno. 

But much more importantly, it means his 5-year-old daughter Milana is healthy enough for Foligno to return to his role with the team. 

Video: Foligno gives an update on Milana

Foligno left the Blue Jackets after the team's Dec. 30 practice as Milana was scheduled to undergo a heart procedure a day later in Boston. The family didn't return to Columbus until Tuesday. 

It's been a harrowing time for a family that has in become used to them - well, as used to them as a family can become. Milana underwent surgery to replace a heart valve a few short weeks after her birth in October 2013, a procedure that worked but still presents its fair share of complications. 

One of those came this fall as Milana battled a virus. Surgery was result, which led to Foligno's recent departure. 

And now he is home, and more than happy to be here.

"Some normalcy has kind of set in again, probably for me more than now than my family," Foligno said in the locker room Thursday morning ahead of tonight's game. "We're obviously still going through the process of recovery for her, but you reflect a little bit too when you get back on the well wishes from the fans, the hockey community, friends, this organization, what they did, the support I got from the guys. 

"It's no wonder why I care about this city and this team so much with the way my family was treated and the well wishes for Milana. It just humbles you when you go through something like that." 

Foligno said Milana is doing well since the procedure, though she still faces some recovery time. 

"It's funny, when she gets around her brothers, she forgets she's just went through something pretty traumatic, so we have to slow her down a little bit," he said. "But that's a great sign, just seeing her not think about the pain so much and just get back to being a kid. You hate when they're sitting in the hospital bed and they don't get to do what they want to do. 

"Every kid just wants to play. You can see she's pretty happy to be around her toys and her brothers. She's starting to feel a little better." 

For all the rough nights over the past few weeks, there have been encouraging signs as well for the Folignos. There's the support the family has received from everyone tied to the Blue Jackets organization including the well wishes of the fan base. There's the care Milana received at Nationwide Children's Hospital before her trip to Boston for the surgery, plus the familiar faces the family met at Boston Children's Hospital, where Milana had her initial surgery and this subsequent follow-up. 

There's also the realization of how far Milana has come, from a child who nearly didn't survive the opening weeks of her life to becoming what the family calls its warrior princess. 

"You see her strength and the people praying for her and concerned about her, and it's no wonder she made such a great recovery and is doing well at home," Foligno said. "We couldn't be more proud of her. When you see her battle and fight the way she did and continues to do it just puts a little more jump in your step." 

Team members, of course, were excited to see the team captain back on the ice after his absence, which included missing the team's New Year's Eve home game as well as the recent three-game road swing. 

"We know what he's been through in the last couple of weeks and we definitely missed him, but more importantly, we're happy that's he's back with us and that means the family is good at home," said Boone Jenner, who has in his sixth season as a teammate of Foligno.  

"We're thrilled to hear that and we're really excited to have him back because he means a lot to this team. Obviously what he brings on the ice, you guys can all see, but in the room, just being around the guys, you miss him that way." 

Added defenseman Zach Werenski, "He's the guy everyone looks up to and everyone love shim on this team. To have him back in the lineup and in the locker room, it's refreshing this morning. He does so much for us. … He's the real deal. That's why we all look up to him and that's why having him away was so hard." 

In addition to being the team's captain, Foligno has scored 10 goals with 10 assists in 37 games this season. He's a plus-6 on the year, plays 18:11 per game, is third on the team with 77 hits, and has won 57.7 percent of his faceoffs.  

"The most important thing is he's back with his family in Columbus," said head coach John Tortorella, who talked often with Foligno in his absence. "You can tell the boys are excited to have him out there. As each game went by, you could tell we missed him more and more as each game went by. The most important thing is his family seems to be well, they're all together now and he's able to concentrate on trying to win a hockey game tonight." 

Foligno said he felt like "a kid in a candy store" to be back on the ice skating Wednesday before reuniting with the team for practice on Thursday. 

The next step in the return to normalcy is to hit the ice for the Blue Jackets, and he'll check that box this evening as he skates onto the Nationwide Arena playing surface with his brothers. 

"I feel like I'm at home," he said. "When you go through this, all you care about is your daughter and nothing else really matters. When you get back to being able to play, it means that she's doing well. It'll be a good feeling stepping on that ice."

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