Nick Foligno’s hockey jersey looks a little different now with a captain’s C on the left chest, but don’t expect the way he conducts himself to change all that much. For Foligno, leadership has come from an evolution of his natural skills, and that is how he plans to continue.
"You aren’t going to change the person you are because of a letter or a different title," Foligno said. "I plan to take on a bigger role in the sense of being there for my teammates and having communication open up."
For the team’s management, watching Foligno’s natural evolution since joining the Jackets via trade prior to the 2012 season is exactly what qualified him for the role of captain.
"It’s not only what he does on the ice," said Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. "He plays the right way and produces points, sticks up for his teammates, competes, plays with a big heart but it’s also what he does off the ice â in the community and with our team. He’s got the ability to say the right things and know whens not to say anything."
Foligno says that leadership for him doesn’t mean changing much not only for himself but also for the team– it’s about staying on course. The Jackets finished the regular season 16-3-1 in their final 20 games and Foligno sees his role as custodian of the team’s focus. He believes that steering the team so that it stays aligned with how they performed at the end of the last year will deliver more success and more wins.
So what exactly does leadership look like for captain Foligno? Well it’s not a knock-down, aggressive style. The 27-year-old Buffalo native acknowledges that there may be moments where he has to stand up and direct his teammates but he wants to rely more on the relationships that he has grown within the room. He says he plans to be proactive so that there are few situations that would demand having to be overly stern.
"That’s the way I work best," Foligno said. "Working with the team and not having a dictatorship – not feeling like I’m bigger than anyone else, just having a really good group of guys and working towards the Stanley Cup."
Jackets head coach Todd Richards said he watched Foligno’s leadership emerge through a series of moments where the forward stepped up in the face of adversity or handled situations the right way and led by example.
"A leader has care for each and every guy in the room," Richards said. "It’s a care about our team game, it’s a care about the staff. And having a personal sense of pride in how we do things or how you want things to go – how are we going to act or things we’re going to do. His responsibility has grown tremendously.
"I know Nick is a proud guy, he takes a lot of pride in his game, he’s going to take a lot of pride in his leadership, he’s going to be a good leader."
Foligno wants to come in to next season prepared and says he will draw from many team leaders he’s played with including Daniel Alfredsson, who captained the Ottawa Senators from 1999-2013, and former Blue Jackets players Adrian Aucoin and Derek MacKenzie.
He will also look to the other players currently in the Jackets’ locker room, whose trust is what Foligno says gives meaning to his captaincy.
"There are so many guys on the team that are leaders and that’s what’s going to allow us to be the team that I envision," Foligno said. "There’s so many guys that are going to be a big part of it."
And if it all sounds too easy, neither Foligno nor the team is worried if a mistake or two happens along the way.
"I’m sure I’m going to make mistakes but that’s why you have guys in other leadership roles to help," Foligno said.
Just as players practice to be better on the ice, Richards says practice will make perfect for Foligno’s leadership.
"You talk about making mistakes," Richards said. "(Foligno) is going to make mistakes, as a coach I make mistakes, but it’s about how do you learn and how do you get better? Every day you can do that."