EDMONTON, Alberta – Marcus Foligno became a bulldozer on skates because of the reaction his hits generated, the cheers from the crowd fueling him on the ice.
“I love the energy I get from fans,” he said, “and I always have.”
But the Wild’s sparkplug will have to find a new jolt when the team is back in action Sunday against Vancouver for Game 1 of the best-of-five qualifying round series.
Fans won’t be inside Rogers Place and although this absence could present a challenge for a fire starter like Foligno, the rugged winger isn’t expecting his style of play to change.
“I love playing in front of my fans, especially Wild fans,” Foligno said recently over the telephone. “[But] this is hockey. This is my job. I know my role. I know what I need to do in order for our team to be successful. If I waver a little bit, it’s not going to help my team.”
If his showing in training camp so far is any indication, Foligno will have no problem adapting to the lack of fan feedback.
Coach Dean Evason called Foligno the most physical player in the team’s intrasquad scrimmages, and Foligno already has identified a substitute to sustain him.
“You look to your guys to get up for it,” he said, “and when you have the momentum shift, you hope your teammates realize it, and when the next guys go over the boards, those guys have a great shift and you build off it.
“When you hit someone, you’re not going to get that boost from the crowd and so you’re going to have to get right back in the play or if you get hit, get right back up and start skating. Gotta have a short-term memory in that sense, where you gotta keep going, keep building off what you’ve done last shift and hope the guys rally around it and look to your teammates to pick you up.”
Even though the circumstances are different, this backdrop could end up accentuating Foligno’s importance to the Wild.
He not only consistently finishes his checks, which helps create space for his linemates, but Foligno also has become a mainstay on the penalty kill. The 28-year-old was also chipping in offensively before the break in the season, scoring 11 goals and adding 14 assists in 59 games to go along with a team-high 184 hits.
And when the intensity peaks and the games become more bruising, like they tend to do in the playoffs, a grinder like Foligno can make a significant impact.
That’s actually when he really emerged in this niche with the Wild, during the team’s five-game playoff series against Winnipeg two years ago — the first NHL postseason appearance of Foligno’s career.
“I just loved playoff hockey after that,” said Foligno, whose dad, Mike, is a former NHLer and brother Nick is captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets. “It took me so long to get there. It’s nice to be back into it. I want to stay in the playoffs for a lot longer than we did last time.”
Foligno can help that objective with his performance on the ice but also his words as a leader, another position he’s settled into the longer he’s been with the team.
He underscored that role when he reached out to Kirill Kaprizov after the forward signed with the Wild earlier this month, texting Kaprizov a message in Russian and English.
“That’s our job as teammates and leaders,” Foligno explained, “just to reach out to him, make him feel that we’re excited too just as much as I’m sure he’s excited to get over here and play.”
Once the playoffs conclude, Foligno will have only one season remaining on his four-year, $11.5 million contract but General Manager Bill Guerin wants Foligno to be part of the team’s future. Although he hasn’t started contract talks with Foligno — or others eligible for extensions such as Kevin Fiala and Jonas Brodin — Guerin said they’re all “high-priority” players he wants to keep on the roster.
“He reminds me a lot of me and a lot of my old teammates in how he approaches the game,” Guerin said of Foligno. “I know he has his brother, but I think his dad rubbed off on him a lot that he really, really enjoys going to the rink every day and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. But when the puck is dropped and it’s time to play, you can count on this guy every night.”
This matchup against the Canucks is another opportunity for Foligno to prove that.
“If I’m playing physical, smart defensively and really good on the penalty kill, things like that,” he said, “I think we’re going to have a really good shot at beating Vancouver.”