VANCOUVER – His dream was about to come true.
After progressing from minor hockey to juniors and then the minors, winger Marcus Foligno was finally joining the Buffalo Sabres to make his NHL debut.
And the first person Marcus called to share the news with was his older brother, Nick, who would square off against Marcus in that Dec. 20, 2011, game as a member of the Ottawa Senators.
“He’s been a really big supporter and a big reason why I’m in the NHL today,” Marcus said.
By the time players reach the pros, their network of mentors, allies and confidantes can be expansive — ranging from parents and spouses to coaches, teammates and agents.
But for the select few who have a brother competing at the same level, the support from someone in an identical situation is particularly helpful and a bond that a handful of Wild players embrace as they experience the game’s highs and lows.
“It’s a unique thing what we do,” center Eric Staal said, “and to have the ability to have someone that you’re that close with and to be able to bounce things off, it’s huge and [I’m] grateful for it.”
Families have long headlined hockey’s elite; before the Subbans, Tkachuks and Benns emerged in today’s NHL, the Howes, Sutters and Espositos reigned.
This season, three active sets of brothers are on the Wild.
Aside from the Folignos — Nick is now the captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets — Staal has two younger brothers in the league. Jordan is a center with the Carolina Hurricanes, while Marc patrols the New York Rangers’ blue line.
And winger Mikael Granlund will reunite on the ice with younger brother Markus on Tuesday when the Wild looks to end a season-high, three-game losing streak in Vancouver against the Canucks.
“The first time we played against each other,” Mikael said, “that was pretty neat. But after that, it’s just a game.”
Mikael and Markus, who are only a year apart, each strapped on skates when they were 4 years old, so pursuing hockey as kids in Finland was a no-brainer.
It was also a routine part of childhood for the Staals growing up in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
But once Eric started to thrive in hockey, that’s when the follow-the-leader mentality developed.
“For them watching me go to juniors and go through those steps, I think it made it realistic for them to say, ‘Hey, if my older brother can do it, I can do it, too,’” Eric said.
Because his dad, Mike, toiled in the NHL for 15 years, Nick Foligno always figured he’d choose the same profession: “I didn’t know there were anything else.”
He fulfilled that ambition, getting drafted in the first round in 2006, and once his career started to take shape, that’s when he sensed Marcus became more serious about his own potential.
And Nick was right.
“I was there when he got drafted,” Marcus said of Nick. “That was really cool. It was kind of something that shook me a little bit. … I realized this is what I want, too.”
While they were fierce competitors as kids, with fights breaking out during road-hockey games and when they jousted with mini sticks, the Foligno brothers are now each other’s sounding board.
“There’s always a text message waiting after the game,” Marcus said. “‘Hey, you played great,’ or, ‘You need to pick up your feet.’ ”
Feedback like that is easily accessible, with coaches and teammates constant companions during the 82-game regular season.
But when it comes from a brother, who’s likely also heard it before, it’s more meaningful.
“It’s really cool that you get to encourage each other and talk about all the things that go on,” Nick said, “and he knows what I’m going through — just like I know what he’s going through. So it’s really neat that way, to pick up the phone and say, ‘No one else would understand this but you.’
“It’s cool the way we can kind of support each other and build each other up from there.”
NHL SHORT TAKES
• One of the most intriguing mysteries through the first two months of the NHL season has been solved. William Nylander (above) will be suiting up for the Maple Leafs after agreeing to a six-year contract just before the window to retain his eligibility to play closed Saturday. The spotlight on Toronto’s payroll, however, isn’t going to go away; Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Kasperi Kapanen are all in the midst of deals that expire after this season. “We want this group to be together as long as we can possibly keep it together,” Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas said, “and we hope that all these guys can be career Leafs — especially this young core group of players. It’s obviously a very exciting group and one that’s excited our fans and our city. That’s our goal, to keep it together as long as it can roll.”
• Less than three weeks after rejoining the Washington Capitals following the fourth suspension of his career, Tom Wilson stirred controversy again Friday night when he was ejected for a hit from behind on the New Jersey Devils’ Brett Seney. Wilson didn’t receive any supplemental discipline, but the collision — which was late — sparked another round of backlash for the rugged forward’s playing style, a reaction Wilson is likely to keep generating amid his history.
• The NHL Board of Governors has convened this week in Georgia, and a vote on Seattle’s application for an expansion team is on Tuesday’s agenda. For the league to add a 32nd team, 24 of the incumbent 31 franchises need to approve the addition.