|Last season, Nick Foligno matched wits with his father, Mike, then an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks. Tonight, the Sens forward will square off against younger brother Marcus, who makes his NHL debut for the Sabres at Scotiabank Place (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
Some might suggest it's a case of the hockey gods smiling down upon a tightly-knit family that lives and breathes the game.
Or perhaps, as Nick Foligno
poignantly suggests, it's the doing of a certain special woman whose presence they all continue to feel with each passing day.
Whatever it is, it will indeed be a special occasion for the Foligno clan tonight, when the Ottawa Senators face off against the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). The game also marks the National Hockey League debut for 20-year-old forward Marcus Foligno, the younger brother of Nick, who played his 300th NHL game just a week ago.
Since the family got the news late yesterday afternoon, it's a been a mad scramble for many of them to arrange transportation to tonight's game. Foligno estimates about 30 friends and family members will be on hand tonight — most notably, his father Mike Foligno, a former Sabres star.
While the group won't include his mother — Janis Foligno lost a lengthy battle with cancer two years ago — Nick suspects she had a hand in delivering what he says all involved are calling "probably the best Christmas present we ever got."
"We feel like my mom had something to do with this and it's really special," Foligno said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "The whole family is excited about it and it's going to be a special night, for sure ... My aunts and uncles, my grandmother — my mom's mother — and just friends and family, they're all coming. Mostly from Sudbury (the Folignos' home town), some from Buffalo.
"It could have been anywhere else and it's (happening) five hours away from our home town and they're all able to get here, so it's pretty special for everybody ... We talked about it all day yesterday. I was actually surprised at how quickly 30 people can drop everything and get to a game."
Scotiabank Place is also where Nick scored his first NHL goal in 2007 and did the "Foligno Leap" as a tribute to his father. And also where, late last season, he locked horns with Mike Foligno when he was an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks. Now this.
"We feel like my mom had something to do with this and it's really special. The whole family is excited about it and it's going to be a special night, for sure ... My aunts and uncles, my grandmother — my mom's mother — and just friends and family, they're all coming. It could have been anywhere else and it's (happening) five hours away from our home town and they're all able to get here, so it's pretty special for everybody. We talked about it all day yesterday. I was actually surprised at how quickly 30 people can drop everything and get to a game." - Nick Foligno
"It's a pretty neat opportunity for both of us," Foligno said of his first chance to play a game against Marcus, a 6-2, 215-pound forward. "I got to play against my dad last year and now my brother. Hopefully, we'll get to do that for a long time. We're very fortunate to be able to do this, especially (Marcus) having his first game against me. It's pretty exciting for the whole family."
Just a year ago, Foligno was singing his brother's praises when Marcus surprisingly made Team Canada's roster for the 2011 world juniors — played in Buffalo, ironically, where both were born during Mike's Sabres days. That they're now NHL foes so quickly almost seems surreal.
"How quickly times flies," said Foligno. "But it's a testament to (Marcus). He's worked hard to develop his game and get to here. I had no doubts that he could — it was just a matter of him asserting himself and the opportunity arising. He's fortunate that the Buffalo Sabres called him up (from the Rochester Americans, their AHL affiliate) and, hopefully, he can make the most of it.
"I think it'll be weird when I first see him on the ice (tonight), but it'll be pretty fun and I'm sure we'll both laugh. The emotions of the game take over after that and it becomes our job to do what we do best. But I know Marcus is so excited. I talked to him last night and he's just so thrilled for the opportunity."
Tonight also marks the Senators debut of centre Kyle Turris
, who was obtained from the Phoenix Coyotes over the weekend in exchange for blueliner David Rundblad and a 2012 second-round draft pick. Turris will centre a line between Foligno and Erik Condra
to start the game.
"We're going to put him on the ice with good people and see what he does," Senators head coach Paul MacLean said of the 22-year-old Turris, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. "We believe he's a real good player and we expect him to play well."
The milestone watch is on full alert tonight, too, with captain Daniel Alfredsson
— who's moved back into a starting forward position in 2012 NHL all-star game fan balloting
— just two goals shy of reaching 400 for his career. Last season, Alfredsson hit the 1,000-point plateau for his career against the Sabres, doing it in style with a hat-trick performance in a 4-2 Ottawa win on Oct. 22, 2010. Around the boards
With veteran blueliners Sergei Gonchar
and Filip Kuba
both returning to the lineup tonight after injury absences, Brian Lee will be a healthy scratch. So, too, is winger Bobby Butler
, who makes room for the arrival of Turris ... The newest Senator enlisted the advice of family and friends to choose the No. 7 he'll wear in Ottawa. "I figured it was time for a change from 91," Turris said of his number with the Coyotes. "I didn't really think 89 (his birth year) was fitting, so I just picked 7" ... Winger Milan Michalek
skated on his own before practice today, his first time on the ice since suffering a concussion a week ago in Buffalo. It heightened the possibility the NHL's second-leading goal scorer (19) could make his return later this week. "That's great," said MacLean. "It was a good day. He felt real good and wanted to go for a skate and skated real good. We'll take that as a real positive."