As the old adage goes, “like father, like son.”

Mike Foligno, a member of the Buffalo Sabres for a decade that spanned most of the 1980’s, was and still is a popular figure in the city. Receiving five consecutive Frank Eddolls Memorial Trophies at one point, which went to the team’s favorite player, the fans certainly appreciated him.

Unafraid to barge to the net or fight for teammates, Foligno was a scrappy forward who was willing to put himself in danger for the greater good of the club. His 1,450 penalty minutes are second-highest among all Sabre players.

More than that though, the Sudbury native had a great scoring touch, evidenced by his 247 goals with Buffalo. After each one, he’d show his enthusiasm by leaping in the air in celebration.

For all the impressive numbers he compiled, Foligno’s greatest attributes were his leadership and hard work. Neither trait ever seemed to be missing on any given night, as he was constantly ready to help the club however he could.

Plenty of those characteristics were passed down to his sons, Nick and Marcus.

Finishing his fifth season with the Ottawa Senators, in which he enjoyed a career-year, Nick is a checking-line asset for Paul MacLean. With 124 penalty minutes, he became much more gritty, but he’s always modeled his work-ethic after his father’s.

While it’s been four years since the elder son scored his first NHL goal and paid homage to dad with a jump of his own, Marcus is just beginning to play himself into a permanent roster slot. He came on leaps (pun intended) and bounds in his late stint in the 2012 campaign.

My turn: Marcus is the third member of the Foligno family to break into the NHL. (Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Penna/ Flikr)

A debut in Ottawa, against his brother Nick and the Senators, saw Buffalo come out flat, losing 4-1. With the impending returns of Patrick Kaleta and Brad Boyes, the trial was short lived. As luck would have it, Marcus would get a second chance in March, again in the nation’s capital.

This time, he got the better of his brother. A third period equalizer by Marcus gave Buffalo a chance to win in a shoot-out, which they did. The play itself was one that his father would be proud of, as it resembled the tenacity Mike often portrayed as a forward.

Outfighting Sergei Gonchar in the corner, Foligno moved out front and slid the puck towards the crease. A fortuitous bounce presented itself, as the disc went off of Daniel Alfredsson’s leg and floated into the net. Unaware that he had the final touch, Marcus did not perform the famous leap to commemorate the moment. Not yet anyhow.

Four days later, with his father in attendance, Marcus potted two more goals at the First Niagara Center. Sure enough, he honored his father with the leap that he began more than 30 years ago. Needless to say, it was a special moment.

Best of all, the Buffalo Sabres were reaping unimaginable rewards from Foligno’s presence. Lindy Ruff placed the 20-year-old on a line with the struggling Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis. The trio hardly let their coach down, as they instantly clicked and bombarded goaltenders.

To put it into perspective, the three combined for 49 points during Foligno’s 13-game insertion. As the team was still in pursuit of a playoff berth, this line became instrumental in their chase. You only need look at their numbers to understand that Buffalo wouldn’t have lasted as long as they did as a potential postseason seed without Foligno’s introduction onto that line.

Driving to the net, throwing hits and scoring, he did a little bit of everything. March was kind to Foligno, as he upstaged other freshmen to become the rookie of the month.

But like his father, Marcus is about more than just basic statistics. He has the inner drive and courage to be an effective factor, even if the rest of the team isn’t as motivated.

The best demonstration of this occurred in an April home contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a match I had the pleasure of witnessing from the seventh row. Ten seconds had elapsed when Foligno blew through Carl Gunnarsson with a dynamite check, separating the defenseman from his helmet.

Minutes later, he fought Matt Frattin and although the Sabres fell behind 3-0 in a sluggish first period, Foligno clearly came to play. Everyone else appeared to lose focus of the fact that their was still a playoff possibility up for grabs, but not their rookie.

Mike Komisarek tried to settle down Foligno with a slash late in the game; however, it seemed to only boost him further. Anticipating a hit behind the goal-line, Komisarek readied himself, but Foligno was only interested in the puck.

Going around Komisarek and causing him to fall, he gained possession of the puck. After that, he went straight for the crease and it led to Jordan Leopold’s tying marker. Skating to the bench, Komisarek received an ear-full from Foligno, who raised his arms in jubilation.

Named the first star of the match, in which Buffalo scraped out a 6-5 win, their young power forward finished with two assists, seven penalty minutes, four hits and four shots on goal.

“He was incredible. He came out just stomping,” coach Lindy Ruff said after the game. “I think he single-handedly helped this team win a game.”

Buffalo has a few big bodies like Stafford and Thomas Vanek, but they don’t exactly put themselves in harm’s way or produce physical damage. Foligno, at such a young age, is already proving himself to be okay with doing things the hard way, if that’s what it takes.

This definitely adds to the explanation of why Zack Kassian was traded, as Foligno would’ve been hampered in his amount of first-team opportunities. Is this the missing piece of a long running puzzle? Do the Buffalo Sabres have that power forward who can emulate Milan Lucic or David Clarkson? Only time will tell.

It’s early, but one would be forgiven for their excitement of seeing Foligno play 82 games with the Buffalo Sabres. Anxious for training camp himself, the new season can’t come fast enough for him and the club’s faithful.

Links to his father will be unavoidable and he’ll have some large shoes–err skates–to fill. Mike Foligno earned his place as a revered athlete in the city of Buffalo before his youngest son was born.

If Marcus continues to perform as he did this year, he will be remembered just as fondly.

Follow Rafal Ladysz on Twitter.


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