|Being made a healthy scratch by former Senators coach Craig Hartsburg gave Nick Foligno an extra kick to improve the level of his play (Photo by Jana Chytilova/NHLI via Getty Images).
can't wait to board the plane for Switzerland and his first big international hockey opportunity.
"I'm really excited about that," the Ottawa Senators forward said about wearing Team USA colours at the 2009 IIHF World Hockey Championship, which begins April 24 in Zurich and Berne.
The invite to the global tourney is just reward for the improved play Foligno showed in the final few months of his second season with the Senators. He wound up with 17 goals – the fourth-highest total on the team – and 32 points, the kind of numbers that he hopes are a sign of even better things to come.
"I feel like I've come a long way as a player and I want to continue to do that," said Foligno, the Senators' top pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. "I started to show my true colours (this season) and I felt more consistent and that's something I talked about at the beginning of the year. I wanted to be able to attain that and I felt that toward the end of the year, I was playing more consistent and that's exciting for me.
"I've just got to go into this off-season, get stronger and come into next year in great shape and excited to play."
Foligno was one of a number of Senators who prospered greatly under the offensively aggressive system installed by head coach Cory Clouston. But it was a move by Clouston's predecessor, Craig Hartsburg, that might have made the biggest difference in Foligno's breakout season. In what would turn out to be his final game behind the Senators bench, Hartsburg made Foligno a healthy scratch Feb. 1 against the Capitals in Washington.
"That was probably the biggest wakeup call I could have," Foligno said in reflecting on the moment. "I thought I was having an okay season and that kind of hit me in the face. Any time you have something like that happen, you can respond in one of two ways and I decided to do something about it and it worked out well.
"It was a little weird with (Hartsburg's) firing, but I came into a good situation. Cory brought the team back to life and the guys started responding and everyone started playing well and you rode that wave."
He didn't feel the need to seek out any advice from his father (former NHLer Mike Foligno) or anyone else.
"I feel like I've come a long way as a player and I want to continue to do that. I started to show my true colours (this season) and I felt more consistent and that's something I talked about at the beginning of the year. I wanted to be able to attain that and I felt that toward the end of the year, I was playing more consistent and that's exciting for me." - Nick Foligno
"I don't think there was much to be said (about it)," said Foligno. "It's obviously not fun but that's just the way it is. You learn from those experiences. Sometimes you get good experiences and bad experiences and you learn from them both.
"That was just one I learned from and I never want that feeling again. I made a decision right then and there to make sure that never happens again and I just started working harder and working smarter and things started to click."
Captain Daniel Alfredsson
noticed the boost Foligno and a group of younger players brought to the Senators lineup with their improved play. He sees them having an even bigger impact in the seasons to come.
"Some of the young guys – Nicky Foligno, (Jesse) Winchester, (Ryan) Shannon – played really well down the stretch and they're only going to get better," said Alfredsson.
It's in great part due to that strong finish that Foligno will head off to the worlds on Sunday, one of nine Senators who'll take part in the tournament (Shannon will join him in Team USA's lineup). He's also likely ratcheted up expectations for next season among Ottawa management but the 21-year-old Foligno said he's more than ready to take them on.
"I want more expectations," he said. "I want to be a guy that they can count on in all situations and I want to just continue the way I've been playing. That's the kind of player I want to be for this organization and hopefully they see it the same way."