As soon as Wild winger Marcus Foligno crashed into the boards Thursday in the season opener, he began to worry.
He wondered if his ankle was OK.
Could he feel his toes?
And he hoped this wasn’t another setback early in the season, just like a year ago when he was socked in the face just three games into his Wild debut and suffered a facial fracture.
“You want to be healthy right off the bat and just find your groove,” Foligno said. “Injuries can take that away from you.”
Although he was slow to stand up and had to be assisted off the ice, Foligno returned to the Wild’s game against the Avalanche only a few minutes after he was tripped up — resuming a season that Foligno will try to make look like his finish in 2017-18 when he finally skated like the physical spark plug the Wild acquired him to be.
“That is the challenge, to do it for 82 games,” he said. “Are you going to have a perfect season? No. But it does take a toll [on] your body. You wake up some mornings … you feel like you got hit by a truck some nights.
“It’s just the way it goes. That’s the way I gotta play.”
Being at full strength certainly helps that bid.
After getting his face smashed last Oct. 12 in a fight with the Blackhawks’ John Hayden and undergoing minor surgery to fix it, Foligno was back in the lineup only two games later — with a cage — but acknowledged he didn’t feel comfortable again on the ice until Christmas.
“Did I rush coming back?” he said. “I don’t think I did, but maybe just mentally being prepared. It takes away from my game, too, to be physical. You have to back it up, and you can’t because you have a cage on, so it’s one of those things that floated in my mind — how to play the game. It’s a new team, so you’re trying to get back and show your toughness to the team and sometimes that hinders you.”
Foligno had been added in the summer via trade, getting shipped to Minnesota from Buffalo along with forward Tyler Ennis and a draft pick for defenseman Marco Scandella, forward Jason Pominville and a pick.
He’d registered a career-high 13 goals the season before and ranked fifth in the NHL in hits with 279, contributions the Wild expected Foligno would provide.
But it wasn’t until late in the season that Foligno consistently made an impact, with his performance peaking during his first career trip to the postseason. In a five-game series against the Jets, Foligno had a goal on four shots, five blocked shots and 16 hits.
“It was just not worrying about the little things,” he said. “Don’t sweat the small stuff. I think that’s what kind of took over at the end. I just felt really good. I started getting some points, which was great, but just overall consistency of my game was there.
“I think it was just credit to me kind of controlling what I can control. It took me some time to figure it out, but even just getting comfortable in the room and things like that it helps. I just kind of found my groove there, but it was one of those things where we were in the playoffs. It was exciting, so it was one of those things I showed what I could do and why they brought me here for that energy. It was a lot of fun to play.”
Duplicating the spark the playoffs can ignite in October is probably tough, but Foligno has identified other ways to be effective than finishing his checks — like making a defensive stop or holding onto the puck to make an offensive play.
“That’s where I gotta try to round out my game a little better,” he said, “so I do have enough juice come playoff time.”
What could help his execution is his life away from the rink, as Foligno is a new dad. His daughter, Olivia, was born in April.
“You have someone to play for,” he said. “Not like it was hard to get up for an NHL game, but I think just having your daughter there now you’re playing for her. Coming home, she takes away all the worries. Honestly, I think it’s better mentally just to come back from the rink, and you don’t have to focus on hockey. You focus on being a dad.”
And with how rugged his role requires him to be, taking on a different persona at home might be just what helps Foligno sustain an edge in his game all season long.
“I can’t talk baby goo-goo-gaga voice when I come here,” he said. “So when I go home, I’m like, ‘I gotta turn this off when I get to the rink.’ ”