Foligno playing with force

Marcus Foligno hurls himself at opponents like a wrecking ball swung toward a building, wreaking havoc wherever his six-foot-one, 200-pound frame makes an impact.

Marcus Foligno

Marcus Foligno

TORONTO — Marcus Foligno hurls himself at opponents like a wrecking ball swung toward a building, wreaking havoc wherever his six-foot-one, 200-pound frame makes an impact.

It’s not always pretty to watch, but it certainly is effective, and it’s precisely what the Canadian national junior team had in mind when it somewhat surprisingly named him to the squad earlier this month.

In early November, the 19-year-old was barely on Hockey Canada’s radar, and didn’t really open eyes until he was added to the Ontario Hockey League all-star roster for a Super Series game against Russia on Nov. 15.

A strong showing that night earned him a longer look at the junior team selection camp earlier this month, and the relentless fashion in which he threw his weight around won over head scout Kevin Prendergast, head coach Dave Cameron and the rest of the staff.

“He came out of nowhere,” Prendergast said in a recent interview. “We threw him in the game in Sudbury against the Russians and he was one of the best players on the ice and he earned the opportunity to get here. (At the camp) every time he was on the ice something happened.

“Kudos to him for earning a spot.”

For hockey fans who remember watching Foligno’s dad Mike grind through a solid 15-year career in the NHL, seeing Marcus plow into his opponents will seem very familiar.

Foligno isn’t the smoothest of skaters, and though he’s clever with the puck, no one is going to confuse him with any of the game’s stylists. But he makes up for that with solid hockey sense, tenacity, and the strength to punish rivals when he gets the body on them.

“I think I take a lot out of my dad’s books,” Foligno said. “I feel on the forecheck I’m an energy guy who wants the puck a lot, and is physical too. I love hitting guys on the forecheck. That’s what I’m going to bring here for Team Canada.”

So far, Foligno has teamed with Zack Kassian (6-3, 226 pounds) and Sean Couturier (6-3, 192 pounds) to form an imposing and effective grind line that forces opposition defencemen to keep their heads up at all times.

The trio is certainly doing its part to help Canada play a style that, in Prendergast’s words, “takes your will to win away.”

Foligno, the Sudbury Wolves captain, is under no illusions about what his job is and relishes his role. Chosen in the fourth round, 104th overall, by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2009 draft, he also understands the opportunity before him.

With the world junior hockey championship in Buffalo, he can not only help Canada win gold, but also impress Sabres officials, who will be keeping close tabs on both the tournament and their prospects.

“Obviously Team Canada is the biggest thing here but for it to be in Buffalo, in front of the fans, in front of the Buffalo staff and organization is very special for me,” said Foligno. “When you have opportunities in life like this you want to make the best of them.”

Adding to the excitement for Foligno is the chance to play in the same city where his dad spent 9 1/2 seasons. Mike Foligno established career-highs of 41 goals and 80 points with the Sabres during the 1985-86 season, and was thrilled when they chose his son.

“Yeah, he was really happy,” said Marcus Foligno. “That’s the team he played for quite a bit, he knew the organization well, he was happy I was going to a good place.”

Older brother Nick plays for the Ottawa Senators, and though they are separated by four years, the two siblings went at each other all the time growing up.

“We’ve played mini-sticks, ball hockey, you name it,” said Marcus Foligno. “I was the goalie, he was the shooter, so I was always in that position to stop him whatever he was doing. It was a lot of fun growing up with him and I think the competition made us better hockey players.”

The next step in that rivalry for the junior Foligno is making the jump to the NHL next season, when he graduates to the pro ranks. He attended training camp this fall with the Sabres, surviving the first round of cuts to get an extra few days of practice in with the big team.

Foligno understands some time developing in the American Hockey League is likely in his future, as is plenty of more work in the weight room. The strength of NHLers really made an impression on him during camp with the Sabres.

“In the OHL you go into a corner, take the body on a guy, to protect the puck you stick out your butt and they can’t reach around you,” said Foligno. “When you get into the NHL, I kind of took it for granted, I went into a corner with a smaller defenceman and he pushed me around and took the puck out, so I was like, ’OK, I’ve got to take another view of how I’m going to control the puck and get stronger.”’

The one thing for certain with Foligno is that his effort won’t be questioned.

At the junior camp, he took to the ice with a mindset of making sure he wouldn’t have any regrets if he didn’t make the team because he had given it his best effort. That’s why he felt good about his chances of being chosen before the final cuts were made, even if it didn’t help with the jitters.

“I felt like my play would dictate whether I could make this team or not, so I had a good feeling that I left everything on the ice,” he said.

“Just to get the nod being named to Canada is amazing.”