After taking the ice over the last two seasons for the Sudbury Wolves, left wing Nick Foligno has turned into one of the top forwards in the OHL. During that time, Foligno has steadily made his way under the tutelage of his father and the Wolves head coach, Mike Foligno.
Originally born in Buffalo, New York during the 1987-88 season when the elder Foligno was skating for the Sabres, Nick grew up watching his father a play a game he would also come to love.
Looking back, Foligno credits the time he spent with his dad because he realizes he could never replace those kinds of experiences he had early on. While the bond grew, the hockey player called ‘Dad’ was just that, a dad. He never pushed Nick to do anything. He was just a positive influence, and a father who just happened to share something he desperately loved with his son.
It never occurred to Foligno that he could make a serious career in hockey until he was selected to take part in the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad for the 2003-04 season. During that year, he skated with some of the finest players to come out of that program in its entire history.
After the lone season with the NTDP, Nick decided to make the jump to the OHL, and play for Sudbury Wolves during the 2004-05 season. While he returned because he always envisioned of playing in the O, he also wanted to be closer to his mom, who had been diagnosed with cancer.
And not only did he return to the place where his father’s career had taken off, but it was also the same team that dad happened to be coaching. And although Mike would serve a dual purpose in his son’s career in life and in hockey, it was something that the younger Foligno believes has been a blessing.
Hockey’s Future recently caught up with Nick Foligno, who spoke about growing up in hockey, his play over the last few years with Sudbury, family, development and more.
HF: What was it like growing up while having a dad that played in the NHL?
NF: It was pretty special. I used to go to the rink with him when I was really young. He used to take me to practice, and I used to skate with some of the guys. To have that type of experience really helped lead me to where I am now. Back then it really never occurred to me he was an NHLer, but I never treated it any different. My dad was really normal; he just happened to play in the NHL. Generally, it helped a lot because I was able to learn the ropes a bit earlier.
HF: How much of an influence did he have on you growing up?
NF: It was a big influence. He really never pushed me and made me decide what I wanted to do with my life. Just being around hockey, seeing how he did it, it really made me want to do it too. When I got the U-17 team, I really realized this is what I wanted to do with my life. He was always there to support me, but he never pushed me to do what he did. He let me make my decision on my own and it has been pretty nice.
HF: How big was it for you to spend the 2003-04 season with the U.S. NDTP?
NF: I developed a lot because we were on the ice every day and we were working out every day. It makes you become a better player no matter what. It was a big thing for my maturity, and it helped me learn how to play with a lot of good players. It was a great thing for me to do, and I really enjoyed my time there.
HF: What was it like to play with Peter Mueller, Phil Kessel, Jack Skille, Jack Johnson and Jeff Frazee that year?
NF: I was playing with a high caliber of players. It was good because it teaches you that you have to learn and how to play the game at such a high level. When you’re with those guys, you’re used to playing at such a higher level and it helps your development. Anytime you can play with some top caliber players, you’re going to develop no matter what. It was awesome and I’m really good friends with a lot of them. We had a lot of fun; we weren’t thinking about a lot of things like the draft back then. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other and having a lot of fun.
HF: You left the program, went back to Canada and played in the OHL with Sudbury for the 2004-05 season. What spurred the move?
NF: I’ve always known that I wanted to play in the league, so I was debating whether I was going to play the U-18 year in the NDTP or make the jump. There was another factor because my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer, which also led to me coming home a bit earlier. I knew I was going to come back because I like the style of hockey better and it suits the way I play.
HF: Moving back home and playing in Sudbury meant you had to play for your dad. How did it all work out?
NF: I thought about it before and I knew it was going to be tough. We’re obviously at a higher level so it’s run more like a business. We have a great relationship, and we treat each other well. I think the rest of the guys appreciate that too. I think I earned a lot of trust from the rest of the players because of our relationship and because of the fact it was on a professional level. We never had a problem whether it is on the ice or off the ice. We have a really wonderful relationship. I treat him like my dad at home and as the coach at the rink. Because we can do that, I think it makes our overall relationship very successful.
HF: Coming from the NTDP to the OHL, a development program to a develop league, what were some of the differences you noticed?
NF: In the OHL, I played with a lot more guys who were bigger and stronger. That really stood out. With the national program, I was playing with guys my own age. I found out you’re able to compete a little bit better because you have the same physical attributes that the rest of the guys. The hardest thing I thought was, the speed, size and the physicality they have here. You also have a chance to play against guys who are 20 years old and you are only 16 or 17 years old. That and a lot of other things factor into how you play the game. I feel now that it has helped me develop a lot more than I might have if I stayed in the U-18 program.
HF: Was there a moment during the 2004-05 season where you felt you were comfortable and knew you could go out there with confidence every night?
NF: It was towards the middle to the end of the season. It took me the first part of the season to get used to everything. I mean it wasn’t easy at first to be playing for your dad. You have to get used to things like that and other things like your new teammates. When I got to the second half of the season, I became comfortable, stronger and felt I could play my game.
HF: You went on to have a productive rookie season with the Wolves (in 2004-05). What were you able to take from that season?
NF: I learned that everything is based on hard work. No matter what, if you come hard and work, you’re going to get something out of every game. Whether it was a point or a win, it taught me that I had to bring it every shift because even if I’m not the best guy out there, I have to match that level all the time. When I was able to learn the ropes and finally grasp what it took to get by in the league, I felt I learned how to focus on what I had to do while learning about how far a strong work ethic can take you.
HF: Coming into this season, did you feel as if you needed to change your approach because it was your draft year?
NF: I thought about it, but I stayed with what got me here so far. I played my game, and hopefully the NHL scouts noticed that. I really wanted to get stronger and faster, so I focused on that. Looking back, I feel as if I improved in that area when I compared it to my rookie season.
HF: This season, you led the team in scoring with 70 points (24 goals, 46 assists). How much did it mean to you to come back and have that much of a presence up front?
NF: I was in a position where I was counted on a lot to help bring in the wins, but overall, it was pretty special. Anytime you have a combination of confidence from your teammates, your coaching staff and from within, it’s a great feeling. It was nice to have a chance to help out the team and have a bigger role. I am glad I was able to answer the bell, but you have to look at the rest of the guys on the roster. I couldn’t have been able to do it without them. You’re only as good as the teammates you’re around, but honestly, it’s the truth. With our team, we have a lot of good players and a lot of hard workers. It worked well for me because we all worked hard to get that puck.
HF: Over your last few years of development from the NTDP to the OHL, have you noticed any changes in your game or your overall approach?
NF: Honestly, the two things that I think has changed would be my strength my overall ability to become more of a complete player. I have really worked on those aspects, and playing in the OHL has helped that a lot. I pride myself in those things and I hope I can continue to improve them as the years go on.
HF: Can you talk about playing with Marc Staal and Benoit Pouliot?
NF: Obviously, those are two high-caliber premiere players in our league. Anytime you can play with guys of their caliber, you’re going to learn something. It’s amazing to watch what these guys can do sometimes. Marc Staal is a natural born leader. I got to know him a lot over these last two years, and I can’t say enough about him. The way he handles himself and how he approaches the game is credit to him. He is everything everyone says about him. Then you have Pouliot. He is one of the most skilled guys I have ever played with.
You learn so much from guys like that because you know they have the ability to go somewhere. You have to watch them because you have to understand what it is that makes them stand out from the rest.
HF: How big is it to have the highly skilled guys on your team like Staal and Pouliot, who brought a lot of character for you feed off of?
NF: They really helped me see where I was and what I needed to do to get where I wanted to get to. Just watching them and getting feedback was great for me. It was also helpful to watch them during their draft year and see what they went through. I was able to learn the ropes a little bit early because they’re able to tell me what to expect. Having them around is definitely awesome.
HF: If I’m a GM and I’m thinking of drafting you come the 24th, what type of player and person do I get if I select you?
NF: I am a hardworking guy and I pride myself of that. I’m also a very well rounded as a player. Those are the two key things I believe will take me very far in my hockey career. I want to continue to find success and continue to evolve into a complete player. I bring it every night. I’m tenacious, in-your-face type of guy, who’s a big team player. If I have to get down and block shots, I’ll do it. I think I’m becoming a complete player, one who plays with all my heart every shift.
HF: What are some of things that you would like to work over the next few years to help speed up the process of making the final jump to the NHL?
NF: When I look at it, I would like to concentrate on my speed. I think that is something that you always have to improve no matter how good you become. You can never be fast enough. I mean, look at the new NHL and what those guys are doing now. That is something I think will come, as I get stronger and older. I have the drive and determination, so something like that as well as working on being that all around player. Overall, if you’re that serious about the game, you can never be satisfied with what you bring every night. As long as I can continue to improve, I’ll be happy.
HF: You attended the NHL combine. What was that like and how do you think you did?
NF: The experience was unbelievable. It really opened your eyes as to what the NHL is all about. You hear things, but you really never realize what it really is until you see it with your own eyes. I met with the teams, and I was finally able to put a face with a name as well learn a lot about the individual organizations and their expectations. It was a great process for me, and I learned a lot. The testing part was just about the hardest thing I have ever been put through. It just goes to show you serious they are about that aspect of the process. It reminds you just how hard you need to work at things as well as keeping your overall strength up.
I thought I did really well with my fitness testing and the interviews. I realized some areas where I could improve, but it’s all a part of the process. That is why we are here, and I know we still have room to improve. There is only one way, which is up, so I’m happy about it.
HF: What is like when you’re on top of your game and how do you maintain that stability?
NF: It is just a feeling that everything is going right for you. You’re working hard, and everything is in line. The team is clicking, and everything is smooth. That is the game I like to play. Nothing too rocky, but everything headed in the right direction. When I’m on top of my game, I have to focus and realize what I’m doing and not really getting rattled by anything else.
HF: How do you handle adversity and work through it?
NF: You just try to keep an even keel when you’re on the ice. You can’t get into extremes. You can’t get too high or too low. I’m a pretty emotional guy, and I had to learn that. I had a hard time this year adjusting because of the new rules. I kind of got ahead of myself from time to time. For the most part, I learned that when there’s adversity, you just have to flush it out and be as strong mentally as you are physically. And talking about that, I’ve really improved on my mental state when I’m out there playing.
HF: What have the last few months been like for know that things are starting to slow down before we hit the draft?
NF: It’s been a bit hectic. It has calmed down, and you start to think about the possibilities of where you might be headed. It’s been great. I’m really excited for my family and me. I think we’re going to have a great time with it and enjoy it as much of it as possible. I’ve been trying to keep in shape for next season, but also get prepared for the draft.
HF: Does anything change for you once you hear your name called on draft day?
NF: Nope. It just means I’m someone else’s property (laughing). Nothing really changes, honestly. I’m just going to head back home after it is over, continue to work hard and let the cards fall where they may. I’m not going to read into that much. I need to be ready come training camp and be ready to go wherever they want me to be.
HF: What do you think it is going to take to get to the NHL level, stay there and be successful?
NF: It is going to take a lot of hard work and drive. I’m a pretty positive guy, so I’m not too worried about certain aspects. I’m just going to focus on what I have to do to get there. That means working on my strength and doing all those little things that got me on the scouts’ radar in the first place. I want to perfect those things and get better as a player.
HF: Have you ever felt as if you have ever had to step outside of your dad’s shadow so to speak?
NF: No, I have never felt as if I was ever in his shadow. He played such a while ago. It’s such a different game now, and I’m such a different person and I think people are starting to realize that. I think I’m going to have some of my father’s attributes because he’s been such a big role model. Of course, I’m going to copy some of those good things he has taught me, but really, I’m a totally different person, and I think I’ve proved that this year.
HF: How important is it for you to have your family, most notably your parents in your corner?
NF: My family is my rock. They have been through thick and thin, especially my mother. My dad was always on the road with his hockey, so he wasn’t around as much when I was younger. It was my mom who took me to all the games and all the practices. She’s been one of my biggest supporters. My brothers and sisters have been great too. They are always behind me wishing me the best. That is the stuff that makes you want to do well for not only for yourself, but for them too. I want to make them proud. It’s a really exciting time and I’m glad I have them here to share it all with.
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