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Columbus' Foligno, Johansen proud to show off city

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- NHL All-Star Weekend is an opportunity for the two hometown players to showcase their city but also a respite from a hard season for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Forwards Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen will be the Blue Jackets' representatives for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Nationwide Arena on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky withdrew from the game after he sustained a lower-body injury Wednesday against the Winnipeg Jets.

The Blue Jackets (20-22-3) were expected to compete for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but are 14 points behind the Boston Bruins for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot, partly because numerous injuries have cost the Blue Jackets nearly 300 man-games.

"I don't want to focus on that right now," Johansen said. "I'm going to enjoy this experience and all the events here. Of course, when this weekend's over we really have to get off to a good start after the break."

The Blue Jackets resume play Tuesday at home against the Washington Capitals.

Foligno has 18 goals in 44 games, equaling the career high he set in 70 games last season. He'll captain one team at the All-Star Game while Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks will be the captain for the other side.

"Obviously I'm very proud of everything that's going on personally, but we play this game to win the Stanley Cup," Foligno said. "It's unfortunate that we've had some injuries that have caused our core guys to be out and a lot of guys have missed time."

What the Blue Jackets have done this season won't diminish the impact of hosting the All-Star Game, he said.

"It's a chance to showcase our city," Foligno said.

That's been a recurring theme for Foligno and Johansen since each was named to their first All-Star Game.

Columbus, which entered the NHL in 2000-01 as an expansion franchise, remains relatively unknown in hockey circles. Although Nationwide Arena was the site for the 2007 NHL Draft, it has hosted five playoff games in the Blue Jackets' history.

That makes Johansen and Foligno ambassadors to the other All-Stars.

"A few guys are asking where to go eat and hang out," Johansen said. "They seemed to have enjoyed their first day in the city. They'll get to know the city more the next couple of days."

The Arena District, with its plentiful bars, restaurants, shops and hotels, was built on the land around Nationwide Arena so everything is easy to get to during All-Star Weekend.

Johansen would know because he lives in the Arena District, although he is staying at a nearby hotel with the rest of the All-Stars.

"It's awesome; I've got six of my buddies who came to town," he said. "They're loving it. They love the whole setup."

He compared what Columbus has to offer in terms of convenience to his trip to Ottawa for the 2012 NHL All-Star Game as one of the Young Stars.

"A couple of [friends] were in Ottawa as well and they think this is 10 times better around here, just the set-up and how it's all so close together right here in downtown," Johansen said.

Nick Foligno
Left Wing - CBJ
GOALS: 18 | ASST: 24 | PTS: 42
SOG: 92 | +/-: 3
Foligno said he is thrilled by the reception the All-Star Game has received in the city.

"It's so great seeing hockey being the main focal point in Columbus the whole weekend," he said. "It's pretty impressive."

Sometimes it can be overwhelming. When Foligno sat down at an interview pod on the concourse of Nationwide Arena on Friday he immediately was engulfed by a wave of media and let out an expletive.

Then he saw the giant banner of himself in the background.

"Sorry for everyone that has to look at that," he joked, then said, "It's a pinch-yourself moment."

Maybe so, but his play this season has earned the respect of others.

"What stands out is his offensive production," said Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette, who will coach Team Toews at the All-Star Game. "He's a guy now who's hard to handle, hard to contain. He's always been a hard-working guy who brings a physical presence but now it seems there's a lot more than that.

"Maybe it's opportunity. You get some power-play time, you move up in the lineup, you get minutes and all of a sudden you gain more confidence. Sometimes players take off."

Johansen had his breakout season in 2013-14, setting career bests in goals (33), assists (30) and points (63). He has 17 goals and 43 points this season.

"My dad [Randall] was always telling me to keep an even keel and not get too high, not to get too low," he said. "The big thing for me is to focus on being consistent. Being a young guy [22], it's hard every game to be at your best."

Johansen already is benefitting from being around other All-Stars this weekend.

"It's cool to see relationships between some of the guys around the League throughout the years, whether they played together or are from the same hometown," he said. "Being a young guy like myself, I'm getting to know some of the older guys on different teams."

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