By David Crosby
The unseasonably warm weather in Warren Foegele’s hometown of Markham, Ont., is fitting for a rare November without hockey. Six weeks after the regular season’s usual start date, the NHL’s plans for the 2020-21 season are still very much in flux, leaving its players sidelined indefinitely. But instead of squeezing every ounce of relaxation from his break, the 24-year-old winger is determined to make the most of his time off.
Foegele underwent wrist surgery shortly after his Hurricanes were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. A little over two months later, he signed a one-year, $2.15 million deal as an RFA to remain in Carolina. Coming off a season in which he set career highs in goals (13), assists (17) and points (30), Foegele is unsatisfied, and he frequently circles back to the same thought.
“My goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” Foegele said. “Our team just wants to compete, and we all want to win.”
If Carolina is going to win its first title in 15 years, Foegele knows he’ll have a big role to play. He’s been training at the nearby Gary Roberts High Performance Centre for a few years, and despite his recent surgery, he’s pushing harder than ever before.
“They have a great setup for me and my recovery,” he said. “It’s really benefitted me to learn all of the off-ice stuff that makes you a better athlete. Taking care of your body and how important the nutrition aspect is. You see a guy like LeBron James – there’s a reason he’s still playing at a high level after 17 years. And regarding the group – when you see the best player in the world (Connor McDavid) out there and other top guys, you want to work just as hard as them an push each other.”
The Hurricanes got a taste of life without Justin Williams in the first half of last season, and his recent retirement puts Foegele in a position to play bigger minutes.
“He’s one heck of a player and a leader,” Foegle said. “It isn’t fair to say someone is going to replace Justin Williams; his career speaks for itself. Of course, with that said, missing a big piece like that, someone needs to step up. At the beginning of last season, he wasn’t there, and I got that chance. I’m focused on getting better in every area and being reliable, but also to keep working on my offensive game. I’m getting that confidence, and I think it will continue to grow. I’m looking forward to the season.”
Hurricanes’ GMr Don Waddell echoed those expectations when Foegele’s new contract was announced.
“Warren has shown improvement each year of his professional career,” Waddell told reporters. “We expect him to continue to develop and enhance his role on our team.”
It wasn’t just his career-best point total that hints at Foegele’s potential to thrive in a bigger role, he has a history of raising his game in the playoffs against some of the league’s best competition. After strong performances in the OHL and AHL playoffs, he scored nine points in 15 games in his 2018-19 NHL post-season debut. His strong play continued in Carolina’s three-game sweep of the New York Rangers in last season’s qualifying round, culminating in one of the biggest goals of his career — the eventual game-winner in the Hurricanes’ series-clinching victory.
“Playoff hockey is…it’s hard to really put into words,” he said. “It’s on the line, you know? I’m just such a huge competitor. I don’t enjoy losing, and when the lights are shining and it’s do-or-die…it’s something about that competitiveness that just comes out of me – I just want to win. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win and go to war.”
It should come as no surprise then that Carolina’s loss to the Bruins is still fresh in Foegele’s mind. He was held scoreless against Boston in a series where Carolina lost three one-goal games and squandered a two-goal lead in the third period of Game 4.
“It wasn’t the playoffs I wanted,” Foegele said “I could’ve been better. I take a lot of pride in playing on the penalty kill and producing 5-on-5. I want to have a bigger role on the team, go into training camp and try to earn it.”
Foegele and the Hurricanes just want to win, and his ability to seize a bigger role will go a long way towards determining their success. Someone needs to step up, and Foegele believes he's ready to do it.