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Family reunion 'special night' for Senators' Foligno

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators forward Nick Foligno will find himself in a unique circumstance when he faces off against his father, Mike, a former NHLer who is now an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks. They'll meet tonight at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).

More times than either can probably remember, the scene played out inside the confines of a hockey arena.

Father behind the bench as a coach, his mind a constant jumble of thoughts and duties, but with an ever watchful eye on the son following in his footsteps.

Tonight, however, will present something different for Mike Foligno, in his first season as an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks and his eldest son, Nick, a third-year forward toiling for the Ottawa Senators. Long gone are the days they shared the same bench with the Ontario Hockey League's Sudbury Wolves. Instead, they'll be hockey adversaries for the first time.

"It's pretty different. I've only played for him," Nick Foligno said earlier today following the Senators' pre-game skate in advance of tonight's matchup with the Ducks at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "It's going to be neat to see him on the other bench and, hopefully, we can get the win."

Mike Foligno, a veteran of more than 1,500 National Hockey League games with the Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, isn't quite sure how to take a situation that both have known was coming since the NHL schedule was drawn up last summer. The Folignos dined together Monday night after the Ducks arrived in Ottawa, but tonight it's all about getting the win.

"We knew this day would come and we kind of looked forward to it," he told the Ottawa Citizen. "We both know the importance of winning games and we're both doing everything possible to do that. But it's the first time this has happened and I don't really know how I'm supposed to feel."

For the majority of their hockey lives, Nick and younger brother Marcus — a Sabres draftee who wore Canada's colours at the recent 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo — have chased their own puck dreams under the guiding light of their father. It is a game and a passion that has already run deeply in this close-knit family.

"It’s an experience that not a lot of kids have," said Nick Foligno. "It was special for me and it’s what drove me to want to be an NHL player. I couldn’t be more thankful for that opportunity. His knowledge and his guidance over the years of my play, how to become a pro ... (my dad) lasted in the league for 15 years, so he knew what it took.

"To have his experiences and be taught from a young age … it helped me become a player earlier rather than later. You saw that with my brother, too. He’s making great strides. Just having (dad) around … he’s been around the block, he understands what it takes to be an NHL player and it’s helped us translate that into our lives."

A busload of about 40 relatives and friends will make its way from Sudbury for the occasion tonight. Sadly, Janis Foligno — the family matriarch, who succumbed to breast cancer in July 2009 — won't be among them. But she will surely be here in spirit: proceeds from the bus trip are being donated to the Janis Foligno Foundation for cancer research.

"It's pretty special and we're going to thank them after the game," said Nick Foligno. "It's going to be a nice night but the fact remains, we still have to win against these guys. No matter how special of a night it is, I want that win real bad."

Mike Foligno said it is a moment his late wife clearly would have enjoyed.

"No question," he told the Orange County Register. "It's just nice knowing that (so much family) will be here ... It's an opportunity not too many people get — a father coaching his son at the highest level. We're blessed."

Around the boards

With Alex Kovalev (knee) still unavailable, Bobby Butler gets his second chance with the big club as a callup from the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators. "Hopefully, I'll use the opportunity and capitalize," said Butler, the AHL's top rookie goal scorer (19). "I want to just go out every shift, play hard and bring intensity. Do whatever I need to do to help the team and just be ready to play." ... Kovalev skated for about 30 minutes on his own this morning and head coach Cory Clouston said there's a "slight chance" he could be good to go Thursday, when the Senators face the Flyers in Philadelphia (7 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200). "We'll wait and see how he feels after tomorrow's skate," said Clouston. "I spoke really briefly with him and he said he felt much better, so that's a positive." ... Brian Elliott gets the start in goal tonight against the Ducks.

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