BUFFALO, N.Y. – Everywhere Sabres rookie forward Marcus Foligno turns these days, he is reminded of his father, Mike Foligno, and the grit and goal-scoring legacy the former captain established in Buffalo 30 years ago.
Whether it’s fans he meets on the streets, Sabres alumni at the arena, or simply leaving the locker room and passing the wall honouring the franchise greats, the Foligno name—his father’s name—is inescapable.
And Marcus, who was born in Buffalo during his father’s playing days and then drafted by the Sabres some 18 years later, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I just think it’s awesome that my dad’s created something here in Buffalo that fans really appreciate,” the 20-year-old said. “There’s no better feeling than having people recognize who you are, and say how much they loved it when my dad played.”
Foligno’s intention is to build on those recollections, saying: “I’m hoping they can one day say how much they loved it when I played.”
One step or—in the unique goal-celebrating tradition first made popular by his father in the 1980s—one leap at a time.
The familiar Foligno arms-raised, two-foot hop is back in fashion in Buffalo, and providing jump to the Sabres’ late-season surge. With his father watching from the stands, Foligno reintroduced the patented family celebration after scoring the first of his two goals in a 5-4 shootout loss to Colorado last week.
“It was something to pay tribute to him,” he recalled. “It was huge, and it was emotional, too.”
The youngster has hardly hit the ground since.
Since being called up from AHL Rochester on March 9, Foligno has five goals and two assists in six games to further propel the team’s 16-5-5 run. That’s helped Buffalo (35-29-10) chase down Washington for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot with 2 1/2 weeks left in the season.
At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Foligno’s big-bodied presence has complemented a line rounded out by undersized playmaking centre Tyler Ennis, and sniper Drew Stafford. Before the line was held without a point in a 3-0 win over Montreal on Wednesday, the trio had combined for 11 goals and 26 points in its previous five games.
Coach Lindy Ruff has been impressed by Foligno’s performance, and amused by the goal celebration, particularly considering Ruff and Mike Foligno were Sabres teammates. And yet, Ruff remains cautious when it comes to making projections.
“Marcus isn’t on an amazing run yet for me,” Ruff said. “He’s put together a good number of games, and there will be a dropoff. There always is. It happens with all young players. But I just have to love the way (the line’s) playing right now and the hope is they can maintain a pretty good level.”
Selected in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, Foligno is aware he’s not earned anything yet. He’s so wary of taking this NHL stint for granted that he’s yet to pick up his car in Rochester.
“I’m going to keep the car there until things go wrong,” Foligno said with a laugh.
Foligno has shown he’s unafraid to drive to the net, where he’s scored four times. He has a solid shot, which he displayed against Colorado by scoring on a 25-footer from the left circle off a face-off. And Foligno’s also proven to be a sound back-checker.
His dad was an all-around player, too, during a 15-year NHL career, in which his blue-collar style left a lasting impression during eight-plus seasons in Buffalo. Foligno ranks sixth on the team list with 247 goals, eighth in points (511) and second with 1,450 penalty minutes.
Through a team spokesman, Mike Foligno declined an interview request, saying he didn’t want to draw attention away from his son.
“Marcus is bigger. Mike was a wiry type of guy,” recalled former Sabres player-turned broadcaster Mike Robitaille. “But they kind of have the same body language. And he certainly has the same body language as his brother. So the DNA runs deep in that family.”
Robitaille was referring to Marcus’ older brother Nick Foligno, who is in his fifth season with Ottawa. Nick also paid tribute to his father by making the leap after scoring his first goal in 2007.
The Foligno boys have been hopping after scoring goals since they were kids. Marcus recalls how they’d both mimic their father’s celebration playing street hockey.
Last week’s leap felt even better.
“There’s no better feeling than having your father at the game, after seeing him guide you throughout your whole hockey career and help you make it to the NHL, and he’s there for your first NHL goal (in Buffalo),” Foligno said.
“So, it was a perfect script.”