Columbus Blue Jackets' Nick Foligno, left, and Sergei Bobrovsky, of Russia, celebrate Foligno's game-winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of a first-round NHL playoff hockey series on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. The Blue Jackets defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
The 2013-2014 NHL season was the second best year of Nick Foligno’s career. He went 18-21-39 and was a +5 in 70 games. In four playoff games versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, he scored two goals. Does having a year like the one he just had weigh on his mind?
"I think the way we play kind of fits the mold of the player that I am. I felt better as the year went on. I felt like I could contribute more and have a bigger role here. That excites me. I want to be a ‘go-to’ guy here. I was happy to be able to have a career year, so to speak. But, more importantly, our team was successful. That’s something I gauge myself more on at the end of the year."
"If you look around at any successful team, you look down the roster and many guys have ‘career years’. That’s the thing that I’m most excited about, that we did well as a team. When teams do well, they don’t want to make a lot of changes. They want to continue to grow and use the same core. You want to be a part of that core. I was really proud of the way we played. I still think there’s a lot left in me to give and to improve on."
With one year left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent, Foligno has shown how much he loves playing in Columbus and would like to stay here, for myriad reasons.
"We (Nick and his wife Janelle) fell in love with Columbus as soon as we got here. It’s an unbelievable place to raise a family. We have a young daughter (Milana) and it’s easy to get around the city. It’s a place I really want to be because I really want to be a part of this. I want to be a part of what we started. We started something special here and I want to see it through. I want to see the Stanley Cup come to Columbus and I want to be one of the guys that brings it here."
"Yes, I’d love to stay here and really make this place a home. I want to bear down and commit to this organization and have them commit to me. Hopefully, that’s what happens. But, I know it’s a business as well and things happen. I absolutely love it here. I’m one of those guys that wants to be ingrained in the city and really become a part of it."
"It’s been great. I’m really pleased with the people here and the support I’ve received. I can’t say enough good things about Columbus. But, the biggest thing is that I want to be a part of what we started and I don’t want anyone else finishing what we’re doing here."
Foligno was traded to Columbus when the organization was in a state of flux. Consequently, he and the other players that have come to Columbus in the last two years are "plank-owners" and have felt a sense of ownership with what has changed within the organization.
"Yes, I do. I feel like I want that ownership. I’m proud of the fact that things started to turn around when I got here and Brandon Dubinsky was brought in. You also have Artem Anisimov and (Sergei) Bobrovsky. Now, we have Nathan Horton here. I think we’re building a winning culture and you can see the guys that were here before, they’re really buying in. You’ve got Ryan Johansen becoming an elite player in this league. Then there’s Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson. Honestly, the list goes on."
"The potential I see on this team is really exciting and it really excites everybody in the organization. Now, it’s about realizing that potential and getting there. That’s the tricky part and also the part that we need to buy-in on and grow as a team. That’s what is either going to make or break us."
"We have enough guys with character, who want to get better and that’s only going to make us a better team. I’m happy that we’re at a point where we can be talking about winning a Stanley Cup in the future. It’s a real exciting time for everybody here and I’m very happy to be a part of it."
The city of Columbus and Nationwide Arena experienced something during the playoffs that had not happened here before. While the fans were "all-in" in supporting their team, the players were surprised at the fervor and raucousness of those within the arena.
"No, not at all. I really didn’t expect that. I remember Nashville last season (final game) and how loud that was. That was outstanding. But, they took it to a completely new level. It was deafening, at some points. I’ve never experienced a sporting event like that, personally. Even in a Canadian city I’ve never heard it that loud and wild."
"The passion and the chanting, the people sticking around after the game, you can really see how much this city wants to embrace us and how much we want to embrace them back. The relationship is starting to form with ‘The 5th Line’. There’s a big excitement here and we’re proud of that."
"We just want to make sure that it’s not false hope and that we’re going to follow through next year. That’s on us, as players. We’re excited about what we’re starting to create here with the fans because it’s been a long time coming. It’s great to see them excited about us and vice versa."
The change in Columbus has followed a path laid down by President of Hockey Operations John Davidson and General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen. It is a process that takes time, although the team has seemed to accelerate that process a bit. What does Foligno see as the next step in the development of the team into a winning, contending club?
"I think it really comes down to our commitment. It is understanding that when we come back (for training camp), that we have a job to do. It’s the maturation of team. We’re a young team, but we’ve gained invaluable experience now. These young guys now have had a taste of what the playoffs are like and that’s all you can think about. I think that’s the motivating factor for us."
"We know what it felt like to get into the playoffs and win a few games. But, we also knew what it felt like to lose out and just how hard it is to win. We did well, but there’s a whole other level to get to. That’s going to be our driving force."
"We have all of this potential, but now we have to push it even harder with offseason training and getting prepared for next season. There is no ‘taking a step back’. We have to keep moving forward. That’s what we’re going to do and that’s everybody’s focus right now."