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Alumni Reunion: Mike Foligno

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Mike Foligno was the third overall draft pick in 1979 and played his first two and a half seasons with the Red Wings.

With the third pick in the 1979 NHL draft, the Red Wings selected a highly-decorated right winger from Sudbury, Ontario.

Mike Foligno was named player of the year for leading the OMJHL in scoring with 150 points, and The Hockey News rated him as the No. 6 draft prospect that spring. Not bad for a player who actually grew-up playing goalie for his youth soccer team in Italy.

Foligno was available to the Wings after the Colorado Rockies selected defenseman Rob Ramage and St. Louis nabbed center Perry Turnbull with the first and second picks, respectively. And Foligno was rushed into service with great success, finishing third in team scoring in each of his first two full seasons with the NHL club.

But the day after the Wings ran their winless streak to eight straight games, Foligno was dealt along with Dale McCourt and Brent Peterson to Buffalo for more experienced players Danny Gare and Jim Schoenfeld.

Still, Foligno enjoyed a solid career with the Sabres before a 1990 trade sent him to Toronto late in his career. While he scored 355 goals in 15 NHL seasons, he’s likely best remembered for his goal-scoring ‘Foligno Leap’ as he leapfrogged into the air after each goal, which is something that his oldest son, Nick, has occasionally duplicated in his short NHL career with the Ottawa Senators.

Since retiring as a player in 1994, Mike Foligno has been a head coach at Hershey of the American Hockey League and at Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League, as we as an assistant for the Anaheim Ducks.

Recently, Foligno was interviewed by and talk candidly about his time in Detroit:

QUESTION: Do you keep in touch with any of your former Red Wings teammates? If so, who?

FOLIGNO: “Usually if there’s a golf outing, we run into each other and some of the guys. Dale McCourt lives in the same area in Sudbury (Ont.).”

Q. Which of the current Red Wings is your favorite? And why?

FOLIGNO: “Probably (Nicklas) Lidstrom. He’s a very, very accomplished, poised individual, and he’s a very quiet leader and has been for quite a number of years. And you tell in the likes of a Scotty Niedermayer what that kind of player does for an organization.”

Q. What was your favorite memory as a Red Wing?

FOLIGNO: “My first year, rookie year, I scored 36 goals, and having the likes of Ted Lindsay here and just the tradition that was around when you see people like that involved in the game. Just to be a part of that nostalgia was a very proud moment for me. Just so many great memories here; we closed the Olympia and opened up Joe Louis, and then the All-Star Game was here and Gordie Howe played in that game. I was in the stands for that game. Wish I was playing, but that was a lot of fun.”

Q. Which of the guys you played with was the toughest?

FOLIGNO: “There were a few when I played here. We had Dennis Polonich. We had Willie Huber, God bless his soul. We had Reed Larson and Perry Miller, who was another tough guy. We had a pretty good, strong-willed group, and unfortunately we didn’t accomplish as much as we would have liked to, but as far as toughness, we had a lot of tough guys on our team.”

Q. Who was the funniest?

FOLIGNO: “Paul Woods. He would crack you up. He would have that smirky little smile going, and all of the jokes that we would play on each other. But when it came time to play, Paul Woods was one of the hardest working players. He was a very good player to emulate as a young man.”

Q. Who had the biggest heart?

FOLIGNO: “I thought Perry Miller. He as the guy that would walk into Philadelphia and he would protect us. Being a young guy coming into the league – even though you were a physical player – you’re not ready for the challenges of some of the men that are in the league, men that want to do battle against you. Perry Miller really looked out for the younger players.”

Q. What was your favorite restaurant in metro Detroit?

FOLIGNO: “We had a few of them. I remember the Lindell A.C. for the burgers downtown, and Ginopolis out by Orchard Lake, and the Excalibur, and the Pontchartrain. That place used to be so much fun.”

Q. How has the NHL changed since you played?

FOLIGNO: “The game is so much faster now. The players are committed year-around. It’s a 365-day a year preparation process that takes place. I think that’s the biggest difference, because in the older days you could get away for the summertime, and come to training camp to get into shape, not already be in shape.”

Q. Toughest team (other than the Red Wings) when you played?

FOLIGNO: “I think there were a few of them. The Boston Bruins definitely had a tough team with Stan Jonathan, (John) Wensick, and (Terry) O’Reilly. Philadelphia had a tough team. Atlanta had a tough team that year. Geez, there were a lot of tough players in our league, because that was the first year that the NHL and the WHA combined, so they had access to all of the best players and the top toughest. It just all came together.”

Q. Who did you sit next to in the dressing room?

FOLIGNO: “I don’t remember.”

Q. What do you love most about the game?

FOLIGNO: “There is so much to love. It’s a very entertaining game. I remember saying a few years ago that there was no way that the game can get any faster. And I had those same thoughts after last season, and that was the best year I’ve ever seen. It just gets better and better, but the guys are so committed. They put their livelihood on the line every day. They play their hearts out and I believe that’s why the fan-base is so strong.”

Q. Who had the greatest influence on your career?

FOLIGNO: “There are a lot of people. But in Detroit it was the players that I played with. They had a real positive influence on me. It was Dennis Polonich always taking us to dinner at his house, and Peter Mahovlich being my centerman, and roommate as well, and guys like Ted Lindsay, who would come into the room, talk to you, and really make you feel comfortable about your role and the expectations here.”

Q. What advice would you give to kids playing today?

FOLIGNO: “I try to stay real positive with them and make them realize that it’s a lot of hard work. And if they don’t do it, someone else is doing it. … I think you have to be prepared, and I don’t mean just doing the work in the weight room. It comes from being a well-rounded person, from caring about other people, and when you’re a part of a team that’s the biggest thing that you can do to become a great teammate.”

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