When his dad, Mike Foligno, coached the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League from 1998 to 2003, Wild winger Marcus Foligno would hang out in the dressing room chewing bubble gum.
“I was pretty much a water boy for that team,” Foligno said.
But he also listened in on his dad’s pregame speeches and heard what the players told each other, realizing the impact those chats had on the team. And now as a pro hockey player himself, Foligno has become a vocal leader for the Wild in his second season with the team.
“It’s something that when you’re talking, it just kind of eases the tension in the dressing room,” Foligno said. “It seems like it kind of eases some players, and it can get some players going.”
As the younger brother to Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno and the son of a former NHLer and coach, Foligno always has been talkative, but he’s been much more expressive this season after joining the Wild via trade from the Buffalo Sabres in the summer of 2017 and signing a four-year, $11.5 million contract.
He wanted to get to know his new team, and after going through that feeling-out process his profile has grown this season on and off the ice.
The 27-year-old adopted a penalty-killing role, averaging among the most shorthanded minutes per game for Wild forwards alongside center and linemate Eric Fehr, while being a constant in the team’s lineup after getting scratched occasionally last season.
“I would never think of doing that this year,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Foligno’s also been a candid evaluator after games, like he was Thursday. After a listless 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars that didn’t embody the urgency expected of a squad like the Wild clamoring for a playoff spot, he brought up the team’s lack of heart, cohesiveness and leadership — a group that, in his words, included him.
“Trying to play for our lives here, and just not sharp and just lackadaisical,” he said Thursday night.
Although Foligno doesn’t wear a letter on his jersey as a captain or alternate and skates on the fourth line, he can still speak up because of how he backs it up on the ice. He’s a physical presence who can supply energy, stick up for teammates and chip in secondary scoring.
“People listen to guys who put out that effort,” Boudreau said.
And providing that boost is exactly what Foligno relishes.
“Just to do the hard work is something I take pride in,” Foligno said, “and I think guys on the team love it, too, when they’re seeing that effort from me and they can jump on board, as well.”
Center Joel Eriksson Ek, who missed his second game Saturday against the Rangers because of a lower-body injury, has been feeling better, Boudreau said, but Eriksson Ek hasn’t resumed skating.
“He’s not ready to do that yet,” Boudreau said.