Foligno takes ‘Battle On’ to heart

Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno (71) celebrates a goal with teammate Boone Jenner.

Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports

The motto for the Columbus Blue Jackets, as they’re in the midst of a playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, is "Battle On." This seems appropriate, as the team has had to overcome adversity throughout the year. One player in particular, has epitomized this motto.

This season has been a trying one for left wing Nick Foligno, both personally and professionally. The 26-year-old Foligno and his wife, Janelle, welcomed the birth of their daughter, Milana, on Oct. 14, 2013. A few days after her birth, doctors diagnosed her with a congenital heart defect. On Nov. 8, 2013, she underwent successful surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital.

On April 3, in a game against Philadelphia, he endured a lower-body injury that saw him miss the final six games of the regular season and the first two playoff games versus Pittsburgh. He has now been medically cleared to play and looks to get into the lineup for Game 3 tonight.

This year was a trying time for the Foligno family and served to put both his family life and hockey life in perspective. Has this made him stronger as a husband, a father and a man?

"Absolutely," said Foligno. "I think that personal experiences definitely do that for you. It makes you understand the adversities that you’re going to face in the hockey game aren’t maybe as serious as in life. I think it helps you handle them better. What I’ve gone through has definitely made me a better player, for sure. It’s also helped to make me a better person."

Before the injury, he was on pace for a 20-goal season. In the 70 games he played, he’s put up a career-best in goals with 18 and went 18-21-39, +5. For him, it’s all about perspective.

"Just taking the game as it is," he said, "And understanding that it’s a privilege to play this game, as well. When you get injured, you realize how quickly it can be taken from you. I think that is something that when you come back, you’re excited to play and you have that energy to play. You just want to be with your teammates."

He has emerged as an integral piece, one of the "bricks," upon which the club is building. He shows both on the ice and off that he is one of the leaders on this team. His gritty, hard-working style fits in like another puzzle piece as the Blue Jackets move forward and grow into their identity.

"It’s a point of pride," said Foligno. "You’re proud to be considered (one of the bricks), and you want to be. It makes you play that much harder knowing that they care about you just as much as you care about the organization.

"I’m proud to be here. I’m proud to be a Blue Jacket, battle alongside these guys and try to win the Stanley Cup."

He smiles when the subject of Columbus being the youngest team in the league is brought up. He acknowledges that they have work to do and that they haven’t accomplished their goal of winning the ultimate prize, despite the hoopla surrounding the first playoff victory in franchise history last Saturday.

"I feel like I have a lot to offer," he said. "I know these other guys have a lot to offer and I’ve learned a lot from some of them. And then you want to try and be a good mentor for the young guys who are here. You remember being in their shoes, like (Ryan) Johansen, Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray.

"We see that the future is bright here and you want to be a part of that. I know a lot of guys in here want to be a part of this for a long time. We’re proud that we made the playoffs but our job is to win the Stanley Cup."

After winning Game 2 on the road in Pittsburgh’s barn and bringing the series back to Columbus tied 1-1, he sees this as a brand new, best of 5 series where they now have the home-ice advantage.

"I think it’s huge," Foligno stated. "It’s a confidence thing, you know? When you go in and you realize that you can win a game in a really hostile and tough building to play in, against a great team, it gives you that confidence coming home.

HEATING UP THE ICE

"I’ve learned in the playoffs that every game just gets harder and harder as you move along. It’s amazing. I’ve played in four-game sweeps and seven-game series. Every game is just harder than the last. That’s something that we need to realize here. As hard as Game 2 was, Game 3 is going to be even harder and we have to be ready for their push-back.

"We have to understand that just because we’re home, nothing changes. We went into their rink and took one from them and they’re going to be planning on doing the same thing here. Our mentality has to be that it’s got to be ramped up even more and making sure that we do the little things we did in the first two games even better."

Foligno, along with his teammates, have made the league sit up and take notice of Columbus. They have forged an identity built through hard work and making their opponents realize that they can no longer look past the Blue Jackets.

"We’ve worked really hard to get that (identity)," he said. "To hear the rumblings every now and then, it’s definitely gratifying to the guys in this room. We’ve put a lot of hard work into turning this around here in a short time.

"We’re proud of the fact that we, brick by brick, have done this. We also know there’s still a lot of work to do. Every guy in this room has been a big part of the change here. It says a lot about the organization and the way they’ve shaped things."

As filled with joy and relief as the fans are from the win in Game 2, the team wants more. They are determined to give a good accounting of themselves, not only in this series with Pittsburgh, but beyond as well.

Game 3 is Monday night. The thing to remember is this: these are not your momma’s Blue Jackets. These guys are hungry.