Many Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans had, or maybe still do have, an old VHS tape titled: The Passion Returns. It’s the story of the 1992 – 93 team. In his first media conference wearing Leaf colours, Nick Foligno referred to that old VHS tape. “The Passion Returns! I remember watching that video. So hopefully, you can bring a little bit of that into the mix here.”
Foligno even brought something from the 1993 season. He was wearing a vintage, team-issued, 1993 Toronto hat he borrowed from his dad. “Nice to be able to rock it and bring a little bit old with the new!” Suppose Leaf Nation wasn’t already excited to see Mike Foligno’s son play for the Leafs. In that case, check out the 10-minute interview. Nick says all the right things. When he was traded, he said playing in Toronto was a dream, you can tell he is excited.
The fact that the family still has Leafs’ clothing hanging around the house is proof Nick is about as genuine as they get when he talks about wearing the blue and white. “The tradition here, I think that’s where you go back on how many great players have played before me, and you know the pride they have in their logo. It’s really neat to see how you put that on. You just feel like you’re carrying a sweater with a lot of guys that played before you and a lot of fans that cheer this team on, so I think it actually gives you a little jump in your step.”
He was one of those fans, as a five-year-old cheering on his dad. As Nick gets ready to play his first game as a Maple Leafs, Mike had one piece of advice to be successful in Toronto. “He just said play with passion, you know, that’s what the Leaf fans love, and that’s what this team loves. I think that’s something I can bring, so I think he’s just thrilled for this opportunity for me, you know, just to play in the playoffs, let alone the team I’m playing for.”
Ready to Contribute
However, that playoff-bound team hasn’t clinched yet. It is in the midst of its worst slide of the season. Toronto has lost five in a row. Foligno’s arrival couldn’t have happened at a better time. Zach Hyman is out, and Sheldon Keefe is looking for a spark. He will start Foligno on the top line with the NHL’s leading scorer, Auston Matthews and playmaking wizard Mitch Marner. “Might as well jump right in right,” laughed Foligno.
When the Leafs acquired him, Keefe pencilled him into the top six. But he didn’t want to rush the process. Even during the morning skate, Keefe checked in and told Foligno, “he doesn’t need to play tonight. You know we want to make sure we’re doing right by him and giving him every opportunity to get back up and running here. It’s not easy sitting in quarantine. But he wasn’t hearing that he’s excited to play.”
Ready to bring a Physical Brand of Hockey
As excited as everyone is for Foligno’s debut, he tries to curb the enthusiasm just a little bit. “I’m not expecting to jump in and start dangling and doing all those things, but I do want to contribute on the other side where you’re hard to play against.” While downplaying what his debut may bring, the veteran knows his hard style of play will help the Leafs now and down the stretch. “I have full confidence in being able to help this team, and I’m sure they’re going to bring me along. There’s a great, great locker room in there. Great group of guys, unbelievable players I’m just coming in here like I said to compliment that and looking forward to doing that.”
He is the first to say he won’t bring any flash to the lineup, but he will be physical, and he will take his dad’s advice. You can bet he will play with a lot of enthusiasm as the passion returns.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.