'This touches my heart'
Hockey Fights Cancer has special meaning to Sens' Foligno
And should the going get tough, the Ottawa Senators left-winger knows his mother, who was "a constant support system" from his youngest days on the ice until he made it to the big league, will be there to help carry him through it all.
|Senators forward Nick Foligno wears a patch inside his hockey pants in memory of his mother, Janis, who lost a five-year fight with breast cancer in July (Photo courtesy of Foligno family).
"It's just a reminder (of) the fact that I'm out there playing for her every day," the 21-year-old Foligno said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today in advance of their matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at Scotiabank Place. "Not that I didn't know that already in the first place, but I just look down if things aren't going well and just remember her.
"She just lights a fire under me all the time, so hopefully she can guide me tonight. I know she's going to be here. She always is, every time I'm playing, so it'll be nice to be thinking about her tonight. It'll be even sweeter to get the two points."
Though he's always one of the most cheerful guys in the Senators dressing room, the hard-working Foligno admits hockey hasn't been the same without his mother. They spoke regularly after his Senators games, just the way they always did during his earliest years in hockey.
"I just remember talking to my dad (former Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mike Foligno) about it recently," said Foligno. "You feel like you lose a part of yourself when she's gone. Hockey-wise, I feel like I've lost one of my biggest fans. It's hard to get used to that. I loved calling her after games and hearing her voice and it's hard not to do that now.
Tonight's game is particularly special for Foligno because it is Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night, with ties, caps and Reflections on a Hockey Season books being sold at Scotiabank Place tonight in support of the National Hockey League-wise campaign. He is determined to do whatever he can to help that cause.
"A day like this absolutely touches my heart and it's nice that the NHL recognizes this kind of awareness for such a terrible disease," said Foligno. "I've personally gone through it and I know a lot of people who have gone through it and it's just terrible that we haven't found a cure for it yet. I know it affects a lot of families.
"It's great that they brings awareness, they bring hope and they bring a lot of faith in what they're trying to sell and show. It's nice for a lot of people to see how many people are affected by (cancer) and how we can help."
Foligno admits his family is still dealing with the loss of his mother every day. Mike Foligno has taken a leave of absence from his coaching duties with the Ontario Hockey League's Sudbury Wolves, where Nick's younger brother Marcus – a 2009 draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres – still plays. Mike is continuing to perform his general manager's duties with the Wolves.
The entire family, including Nick's sisters Cara and Lisa, gathered at his Ottawa home on Sunday night for a Thanksgiving dinner. It was an occasion that warmed everyone's hearts but also offered one of those reminders of Janis's absence.
"It's not going to be easy with first Christmases and birthdays and days like that. But that's what family is for and you also surround yourself with good friends and good guys on this team. The organization has been great to me (through this)."
He still fondly remembers his minor hockey days in Buffalo and Toronto, when Janis Foligno was Nick's biggest supporter in every way.
"You have so many memories and relationships with your mother when it comes to hockey," said Foligno. "She's the one doing all those things for you. I didn't really have a dad around when I was younger because he was always away playing or coaching, so it was always her making the meals and getting me to the practices and the games and sometimes even dressing me when I was younger.
"It's hard because this is all her hard work coming to the forefront now with me making the NHL. You want her to be there sharing it with you. But I know she is now and she always will be. It's just a matter of not being able to see her face every day."