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Foligno growing into more prominent role for Sens

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Buffalo native Nick Foligno will play his 300th career NHL game for the Senators tonight in the city in which he was born, when the Senators take on the Sabres at First Niagara Center (Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images).

Nick Foligno couldn't help being startled by size of the number.

"Three hundred games? That was quick," the Senators forward said with a grin when asked about the milestone he'll reach tonight at First Niagara Center (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), when Ottawa faces off against the Buffalo Sabres in a Northeast Division showdown.

"It's a nice accomplishment. Hopefully, I can get 700 more. It goes quick, for sure, but I've been enjoying every day of it and I'm really happy that I'm playing in the NHL. It's been fun."

Perhaps never more fun than this season, when Foligno has carved out a much more prominent role for himself in the Senators lineup. With 10 goals and 19 points — including nine in his last nine — the 24-year-old Buffalo native is well on his way to a career year in both categories. He's thrived in the team's second-line centre role, in particular.

"I feel like I'm consistently helping and I want to continue to do that," said Foligno, in his fourth full season with the Senators. "I don't think my game is perfect or where I want it to be, but I'm proud of the fact I'm putting in a good effort and maybe getting rewarded for it and helping the team.

"I'm making an impact out there or trying to, and it's something I wanted to bring and talked about for a long time. I've put in a lot of hard work and had the opportunity as well. The coaches have given me the opportunity. I'm playing with some great players and it's all worked out ... I think I still have a ways to improve, but I'm enjoying the success I've had so far."

Foligno was born in Buffalo when his father, Mike, was a star forward with the Sabres. Mike Foligno toiled for 1,018 games over 15 seasons in the National Hockey League, something his eldest son admits he never saw coming for himself all those years ago.

"I was just hoping to play in the NHL," said Foligno. "With my dad and seeing his career, I guess I hoped for that many years, but never really understood the significance of it or anything like that. You see guys around (our) room like Gonch (Sergei Gonchar) and Alfie (Daniel Alfredsson) and they've played 1,000 games. Philly (Chris Phillips) is going to hit that mark this year.

"It says a lot about the people they are and how committed they are to the game. You want to be one of those people later on in life, too."

For now, Foligno will savour NHL game No. 300 — especially in the city where it all started.

"I think that's cool," said Foligno, who expects to have several family members in the house tonight. "Hopefully, there's many more games to come, so it's just another stepping stone to get where you want. It's pretty neat to be able to celebrate my 300th game against Buffalo."

Around the boards

Binghamton Senators defenceman Patrick Wiercioch, who was hit in the throat by a puck during last Friday's home-ice loss to the Norfolk Admirals, has been released from hospital in nearby Syracuse. According to a team statement, "Wiercioch has returned to his home in Binghamton, where he will focus on recovering" ... Senators forward prospect Mark Stone has survived the first round of cuts at Hockey Canada's final evaluation camp to select its team for the 2012 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, which begins Dec. 26 in Calgary and Edmonton. The final team announcement is slated for Wednesday ... Craig Anderson gets the start in goal tonight for the Senators ... Centre Zenon Konopka returns to the lineup, with Bobby Butler being tonight's healthy scratch.

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