He wore slippers rather than skates.
Gone was his Wild jersey, getting swapped out for a sweater and jeans.
And he wasn’t focused on pasting an opposing player into the boards.
Instead, Marcus Foligno concentrated on teatime with his 21-month-old daughter Olivia during a snowy afternoon at their Edina home, serving from a pink teapot that lit up while it sang.
“You gotta blow on it. It’s hot,” Foligno instructed urgently, as if they were about to sip real tea, but Olivia already had tipped the cup.
She watched as he blew over his matching mug and they clanked cups.
“Cheers,” Foligno said.
In his third season with the Wild after being acquired in a trade from Buffalo, Foligno is a fascinating enigma.
The 6-3, 225-pound winger with a team-high 137 hits is also Mr. Nice Guy, an easygoing softy who spends downtime with wife, Natascia, watching Olivia bounce on a miniature trampoline.
The son of former NHLer Mike Foligno and brother of Columbus captain Nick Foligno, the 28-year-old left winger isn’t the same player as his offensive-minded kin. He grinds in the bottom-six forward group, but he’s not a prototypical third liner that used to populate the game as a one-dimensional checker. Foligno is a new-age version that offers a little bit of everything because he can score, defend, hit and fight.
And by boasting a diverse skill set, Foligno has discovered the best and most enjoyable hockey of his career.
“I’m having fun,” he said. “It’s nice to be rewarded for hard work, and I feel like this season I’m getting rewarded.”
The makings of Moose
From childhood, Foligno was suited to toil in the trenches. Husky as a kid, he kept growing, getting taller than his brother, Nick, despite being four years younger. Growing quickly, he was uncoordinated, breaking both of his ankles playing basketball and his nose in flag football.
His family dubbed him “Moose.”
“He looked like a baby moose trying to figure out how to walk and move,” Nick said.
But while Nick idolized the skilled and savvy Peter Forsberg, Marcus’ favorite player was Claude Lemieux, one of the NHL’s most notorious pests.
In minor hockey, Foligno became hooked on hitting when he saw the reaction it stirred.
“Just hearing the roar of the fans from being more physical than other players was something that always got me excited,” Foligno said.
Mike Foligno played more than 1,000 NHL games before becoming a coach, and Nick was on his way to becoming a first rounder just like their dad.
“We were always around it, and I fell in love with it,” said Marcus, who was born in Buffalo before settling in Sudbury, Ontario. He also was drafted, but mostly because he had size and strength, and he embraced a heavier brand of hockey.
“Marcus has gone his own road in a lot of ways,” Nick said, “and I’m proud of him for that.”
But after Buffalo selected him in the fourth round in 2009, Foligno began to showcase offensive talents.
“You could see everything come together for him,” Nick said. “Then, man, he just took off.”
Time to change
After scoring 23 goals in his final junior season in Sudbury, Foligno racked up another 16 in his first pro season in the American Hockey League.
But when he joined the Sabres full-time in 2013, his production waned. He would max out around 20 points every season with a team struggling to rebuild.
Foligno got a fresh start in 2017 when he and Tyler Ennis were traded to the Wild in exchange for Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville, and then he got a four-year, $11.5 million contract, which came with an epiphany.
“You can’t just be a fourth liner, fighter anymore,” he said. “You can’t. This league is just changing so much, and you have to be able to pass, shoot, score and create offense as much as you’re being good defensively.”
Foligno was a top-nine forward with the Sabres, but coach Bruce Boudreau ended up using Foligno on the fourth line. He used his first Wild season to familiarize himself with the team.
“Bruce has his guys at the time,” Foligno said. “You gotta respect that.”
By Year 2, a spot on the penalty kill gave Foligno more responsibility, and he flourished amid the opportunity, morphing into one of the Wild’s most reliable options.
And as he prepared for this season, Foligno eyed the next step of his evolution: offense.
“For a few years, Nick was the guy pushing Marcus,” said Mike, who also played for Buffalo and scored 355 goals in the NHL. “Then this year, this summer before training camp, [Nick] mentioned how Marcus was the guy that was pushing him. He’s found his next level, and it’s really showing now.”
Hitting his stride
Although Foligno started the season on the fourth line, his well-rounded play eventually earned him a promotion.
Since then, he’s been one of the Wild’s most consistent catalysts; for the season, he has nine goals and 11 assists and is on pace for career highs in both.
“He’s finally realized how to put it all together,” Nick said.
But Foligno’s impact has been broader; his line with Luke Kunin and Joel Eriksson Ek supplies goals, defends the opponent’s best and kills penalties.
“He just works so hard all the time, just does the right things on the ice,” Kunin said of Foligno, who hasn’t neglected his bread and butter.
“He’s one of the best hitters in the league,” Nick said. “I always admire that. I don’t know how he lines guys up so well, but he’s been doing that since he was young.”
“When he hits you,” Mike said, “it feels like a Mack truck has hit you.”
But Foligno doesn’t just hit for the team.
“I’m not the quickest out there, but I think me being physical slows down the game for my liking,” Foligno said. “It actually helps my game out because defenses don’t like to go back for the puck when they know I’m on the ice.”
Still, there’s an art to it.
“If my feet are moving, I’m getting myself in those really good positions to hit guys along the boards,” he said. “I’m not running out of my way. … When my game’s really good, the hits are almost coming to me.”
Fierce and friendly
Another factor is at work here, and it makes perfect sense and none whatsoever at the same time.
Foligno is a disciple of the fiercest faction of the sport because of his friendly personality. He is determined to help the group, even if that means he must administer punishment and absorb some himself.
“Everybody likes him,” Boudreau said.
Not a fan of staged fighting, Foligno will drop the gloves if he feels he’s standing up for a teammate or eliciting justice for a dirty play. He thrives on the heat of the moment — except when it comes to trash talking.
“I have a tough time coming up with something right on the spot,” he said.
But he is chatty with his teammates, and can remind everyone of what’s at stake. In that sense, he’s become a leader, a role that’s spilled over into being a stand-up guy for the media.
Foligno learned this from his dad, who was also an NHL assistant and head coach in the minors and juniors.
“He was always the heart and soul of the locker room, the type of guy who would do anything for his teammates,” said Foligno, the youngest of four children. “I saw that and being around for his speeches as a coach, he knew how to amp the guys up. He knew how to rally a team, and he was a motivator.”
He’s a reflection of his mom, Janis, too.
She died in 2009 after battling cancer, leaving a legacy Foligno still upholds.
“You don’t give up,” he said. “She never gave up, so I feel like that’s been my motto, too.”
Playing with a purpose
Back in Olivia’s toy room, Foligno and his daughter wore identical smiles after they finished teatime.
“He’s a big kid himself,” Natascia said, “so he loves to play with her.”
After squirming out of Foligno’s lap, Olivia homed in on a stuffed animal of the Wild’s mascot. She calls him, “Nordy, boom, boom,” mimicking the sound of the drum Nordy pounds at games.
“I think she’s the cutest girl in the world,” Foligno said, “and when you look at her, you don’t really think about the game. You don’t really think about the problems and the stress that you have.”
Foligno can’t completely forget his work life when he’s at home, not when Olivia is already telling him to “shoot the puck, Daddy.”
But being a dad and a hockey player aren’t mutually exclusive, even if both demand different sides of him.
“You are not worried about yourself anymore,” Foligno said. “You’re worried about Olivia now, and that’s the biggest thing that you look forward to. It gives you more purpose in life. Although I love life, when you have someone else to share it with and someone else to provide for, it gives you more purpose.
“You’re motivated to do your best every day.”