Catching up with the NHL crew at Countryside
by Randy Pascal
Some NHL trade rumours linger for weeks, perhaps months, allowing players involved to mentally prepare themselves for the inevitable move.
The June 30th (2017) transaction that would see Sudbury native Marcus Foligno and teammate Tyler Ennis shipped from the Buffalo Sabres
to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella and a 4th round pick bore no such foreboding.
"It was a pretty crazy day, it was actually my brother in law's wedding day," noted Foligno, taking part in the recent NHLers vs Docs charity
hockey game at the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex.
"I was in the wedding party, when the call came from (Buffalo GM) Jason Botterill. Right then and there, your whole world shifts." Six seasons,
347 games, 49 goals, 67 assists and 334 penalty minutes in Buffalo would close the books for Foligno.
Time to move on. "Minnesota is a great team and there's a chance to do some really great things this year with that group," said Foligno, who has yet to
taste the drama of NHL playoff hockey. "What I'm excited about is the "want", the fact that they stressed they really wanted to get me."
"I think there is an expectation for me to do more out there," he added. "In Buffalo, I think it was a little bit limited under (coach) Dan Bylsma,
in certain situations. I think he wanted me in more of a defensive role."
"In talking to Bruce Boudreau recently, he emphasized they want me to play that big body style, but continue to score goals as well. It's all
about the power forward game that will lead me to those goals."
The 2016-2017 campaign would actually see the 6'3" 226 pound forward establish a new single season high in goals, with 13, all while matching his 23
point total from the previous year.
It was about a year ago this time, with Nick Foligno coming off a 12 goal season directly on the heels of a career high 31 goal mark in 2015-2016,
that Columbus' head coach John Tortorella would challenge the nine year NHL veteran, questioning whether Foligno was the right man to maintain the
captaincy of the Blue Jackets' team.
The soon-to-be 30 year old former Sudbury Wolves star responded with a more than solid 26G-25A-51PTS in 79 game campaign, taking to heart the
gauntlet that had been thrown down by his fiery bench boss.
"It was a great challenge, it was bang on," said Foligno, one of the co-organizers of the NEO Kids charity game. "You don't like to hear it
sometimes, but it's something you need to hear about yourself."
"I think, deep down, he knew that I could do it. He needed to see more, and I needed to give more. I wasn't good enough two years ago. And it's still not
good enough, we still haven't won a Stanley Cup."
"I still tell him that I've got a long way to go," Foligno continued. "It's not after having one year of OK hockey that now you've arrived. I understood
his message loud and clear. I'm excited to lead this group of guys. You see what kind of quality guys they are, coming up here and supporting something
In fact, teammates Boone Jenner, Zach Werenski, Scott Harrington and Josh Anderson, along with former Blue Jacket and current New Jersey
Devil Dalton Prout, all lent a hand in taking to the ice for this most worthwhile event.
For Foligno, whose first born daughter was nearly lost due to heart complications not long after her birth, the cause touches extremely close to home.
"Sometimes, you fall into these things naturally," he said. "I never would have predicted that I would need a children's hospital in my lifetime, but man,
was I happy when I needed them at my side."
"You realize how important it is. You see the passion of someone like Dr (Sean) Murray for what's needed here in Sudbury, and realize how
important a NEO kids facility in this area would be, what it would bring to so many people in the north."
As Derek Mackenzie returns for his second year as captain of the Florida Panthers, readying for his 15th season of NHL play, it's easy to
forget that his 30th birthday was only months away when the Sudbury native finally eclipsed 20 NHL games played, in a single season.
From his entry into the league as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2001-02 - he would play just a single game - through until the 2009-2010
season in which he suited up 18 times for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Mackenzie's resume included a grand total of just 64 games.
Barring any major injuries, he will break through the 600 game mark some time next spring. "It's been a lot longer than I ever expected, and you feel
pretty fortunate," said Mackenzie last week. "My kids are grown up a little bit now, so it's always nice to share whatever moments you can with them."
"I'm just trying to enjoy this last little push, whether it's a year or two, you just never know. Days like today really kind of help it sink in about
just how lucky I have been."
It does come as something of a surprise, to those in this area who followed his ascent to pro hockey, that Mackenzie celebrated his 36th birthday earlier
this summer. It's part of the reason why wearing the "C" holds so much meaning for the 5th round pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.
"It was a bit of a process, so it didn't catch me off guard," he acknowledged. "But it was obviously pretty flattering when that conversation came up.
I wanted to make sure everybody was on board, we talked about it for a while."
"It kind of came together because we have a young team, we have guys that are going to be captains for a long time to come. The timing just happened to
be right for me."
And as for a Panthers team that finished first in the Atlantic Division just two short years ago, racking up 103 points in the process, Mackenzie
suggested a return to form is certainly not out of the question.
"What's important for us is to stay healthy, stay healthy early and get off to a good start. If we can get back to realizing that yes, we are that team
we were two years ago, then we will be alright."