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Foligno living up to family name

by Karl Samuelson /

"I think I have a lot of the same attributes of my father. To be perfectly honest, I am a team player and will stand up for myself and for my teammates. That's the kind of guy I am. I am pretty gritty and love to compete. That's the way I was raised and it was taught by my father. I was lucky to be able to learn first hand from him."
-- Nick Foligno

Think of some hockey family names and predictable images will come to mind.

Hull translates into goal-scoring prowess.

The name Mahovlich evokes size and skill.

People identify the name Dryden with intelligence and puck-stopping ability.

What about the name Foligno?

When the Ottawa Senators' scouting staff discussed the question 3 years ago, the bird dogs agreed that the name Foligno identified 2 traits above all others -- character and grit.

After a rookie season that saw him divide his time between the Senators and their American Hockey League farm team in Binghamton, sophomore Nick Foligno is now showing the qualities that originally attracted Ottawa scouts and led to the club's decision to choose him in the first round, No. 28, in the 2006 NHL Draft.

Last season he showed character and grit on occasion. This season he is bringing it every night.

"It was a learning experience for me last year," said Foligno, who scored 6 goals in 45 games with Ottawa and added 1 goal in 4 playoff contests. "As the year went on, I got better and better. I felt like I was still learning a lot while being sent up and down the whole year. But the biggest thing for me was acquiring the confidence during the playoffs and finally realizing what my game is in this League.

"Sometimes it does take a full year to realize what you need to do, and for me that was certainly the case. Once playoffs hit, it finally clicked what I had to do. So I went out there and played with more confidence. Unfortunately, we didn't win, but I felt like I was starting to become the player that I want to be in this League."

Foligno has shown flashes of brilliance from the start of his rookie campaign, making highly skilled moves that worked every time in junior, but are considered a long shot in the NHL. Foligno is quickly learning when he can and when he can't try to make a highlight-reel play.

"That's for sure," said Foligno. "There are times when you have to play a skilled game. You have to use your hands and make nice plays. Then there are times when you just have to work hard along the boards. That's the biggest thing for any young player coming into the NHL, you have to figure out when is the right time. At one point last year I was just focused on playing a skilled game and at another point I was just trying to play a checking game and wasn't trying to create too much. You have to find a happy medium."

Like any young player, the 6-foot, 205-pound forward is working hard to create his own identity. But trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth. And at times it can be just as frustrating.

Foligno's situation is a little different than some of his peers as his father, Mike, was a dominant power forward for 15 NHL seasons. Inevitably, people wonder if the younger Foligno will resemble his father on the ice.
"I think I have a lot of the same attributes of my father," said the 21-year old Buffalo native. "To be perfectly honest, I am a team player and will stand up for myself and for my teammates. That's the kind of guy I am. I am pretty gritty and love to compete. That's the way I was raised and it was taught by my father. I was lucky to be able to learn first hand from him.

"I also consider myself a skilled guy, so I want to be able to put the points up," Foligno said. "But that's only going to come through hard work. I learned at a young age that as long as you are competing hard, the points will come. So you have to make sure that you are responsible on both ends of the puck. I feel I can be a complete hockey player."

What does the senior Foligno think of his son's evolution?

"He understood the workings of what it takes to be an NHL player," said the elder Foligno, who coached Nick for 3 seasons with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. "He saw me training and the dedication someone has to put in to do the job. He was old enough to watch the other players on the teams I played with, what they did and how they acted and had ability to key on certain players.

"He developed a feel for the game and an understanding for the game by watching the game."

The younger Foligno cherishes the opportunities his father provided for him to learn the game.

"My father has been supportive through everything," said Foligno. "Last year he knew that I was in a learning mode. He just wanted me to work hard during the summer and do what the team was telling me. The team gave me goals after the season ended and I wanted to make sure that I attained those goals. Coming into this season, I feel that I have met them.

"I really worked hard during the summer on becoming a better player. It helps when you're happy with the shape you're in, not only on the ice, but you feel more comfortable in your own body. You feel like you can compete against men."

Foligno's dedication to improvement is paying dividends as he is not being pushed off the puck this season, and he is scoring finesse goals while also paying the price in the trenches.

"You have to be in the best shape possible to be able to do the things that you have the natural talent for," Nick Foligno said. "I had to become stronger and quicker. You have to make sure that you have the quick step to be able to pull away from opponents. Last year, my body wasn't as mature as it is now. I feel that I have the speed to pull away from guys if I need to and that's the biggest thing in this League, that one-step quickness. It will make the world of difference on the ice.

"My father could definitely skate. He was a different skater, but he was a quick skater and played physical. I want to be that type of player, the kind that is tough to play against each and every night."

Like his father, Nick starred for the Wolves before making the leap to the NHL.

With his father standing behind the bench as head coach, Nick improved his production in all categories during each of his 3 seasons in Sudbury and in his final year set career highs in goals (31) assists (57) and points (88). He led an average Sudbury squad to the 2007 OHL finals against the Plymouth Whalers and paced the team with 12 goals and 29 points while posting a plus-14 in 21 playoff games.

For Mike Foligno, it was a rare treat watching his son grow on and off the ice. It did create an odd dichotomy, though, in the separation of work and family.

"It's a fine line, there's no question," said Mike Foligno. "Did we cross that line? Yes, there were times. But what you end up doing is you shrug it off and laugh about it. Acknowledge it and educate yourself to it. It's not something that happens where you get the chance to coach your son at a high level like major junior hockey. We knew we had something special and we didn't want to ruin it. At work, it's work and you're going to get treated like anyone else. And at home, it's our family. We try to make sure the 2 didn't cross."

And if they ever did?

"My wife took care of things," Mike Foligno said.

Rivalries flourish in every hockey league, and in the OHL the Wolves' most bitter opponent has always been the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Who coached the Hounds during Foligno's OHL seasons? None other than current Senators bench boss Craig Hartsburg.

Foligno is pleased with the leadership approach of his former archrival and believes that it will work well in Ottawa.

"We had a few battles back in the day," Foligno laughed. "The rivalry was intense, but you also had a lot of respect for the team. The Sault had a great team and they were a hard team to play against. I'm excited to play that style of game."

Foligno believes that both he and his team are building the right identity -- one that will ultimately conjure up images of success.

"There's a whole change of pace here in Ottawa with coach Hartsburg and the assistant coaches," Foligno said. "We are accepting what we need to be and what direction we need to go. There are a lot of leaders in this room and we have a good mix of guys -- character guys, skilled guys, and everyone on our team works hard. That's the biggest difference from last year. We have an identity now and we want to keep it."
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