Niagara Falls, ON. -- It was an unusual Monday evening for the Novice AAA Niagara Falls Rivermen. When they showed up to the Gale Centre for practice, they found Buffalo Sabres forward Marcus Foligno and Sabres alumni Rob Ray, Jay McKee and Richie Dunn waiting there for them. The visit was part of the organization's second annual "Invade Canada" tour of select Southern Ontario cities.
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The young excited Rivermen players listened attentively as they received a few tips from the pros.
Foligno, Ray, McKee and Dunn took turns reminiscing about their childhood hockey days and provided advice to the team of kids younger than nine how to be successful athletes.
“There’s always going to be someone trying to take your position. Someone who is trying to be quicker, better, stronger,” Ray said. “You have to keep working on getting to be the best you can be.”
McKee, who played junior hockey in Niagara Falls, shared a similar message.
“The most important quality I learned from the best players in the world is consistency,” he said. “If you give your best effort on and off the ice every single day, everything will fall into place.”
Foligno expressed the importance of a solid work ethic and doing well in school.
“When I was your age, if I didn’t pass a test, I couldn’t go in my next hockey tournament,” he said.
The pros took time to meet with the Rivermen, sign autographs and tease a few young self-admitted Toronto Maple Leafs fans for their choice of team.
After the meet and greet, the Rivermen were thrilled to have Foligno accompany them on the ice for practice. Foligno participated in all of the team’s usual skating, shooting and positional drills.
The 6-foot-3 Sabres forward had his hands full as some feisty Rivermen players did not shy away from challenging him in front of the net and in the corners.
Foligno and the Sabres alumni provided the players with one of many positive learning experiences they will have throughout their young careers. Foligno ensured the kids you never stop learning as a hockey player no matter what level you play at.
“I’m 22 years old and I still have a lot to learn,” he said.