Nick Foligno embraces leadership role as opportunity to pay it forward

With a focus on helping his younger Chicago Blackhawks teammates succeed, Nick Foligno’s own recent milestone caught him off guard.

Nick Foligno embraces leadership role as opportunity to pay it forward

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Guided by a principle handed down to him during his earlier days as an NHL player, Nick Foligno has one caveat before sharing any advice with his younger teammates.

“My first years in the league, the established players worked on the relationship with me first,” said the forward, who kicked off his NHL tenure in 2007-08 with the Ottawa Senators.

“So, I never felt like anything they said came from a bad place. They were genuinely trying to make me a better player and a better person. So, I always try to keep that in mind.”

At 36, Foligno is the eldest member of a young Chicago Blackhawks team that is becoming known for their wealth of young talent, including 2023 first overall NHL Draft pick, Connor Bedard, and 2022 seventh overall selection, Kevin Korchinski.

As an established veteran who wore the “C” for the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2015 to 2021, Foligno has long embraced the opportunity to mentor younger players  and knows how create a tight-knit and authentic culture.

“When you are giving advice, there is a way of delivering it. But it is so important to know the person first. If you have that relationship, you have broken down a barrier where they will understand where the advice is coming from. Along the way, I have always tried to build a relationship first to show that I care. Usually, everything from there happens organically.”

It has from the moment he was traded to Chicago from Boston last June. The Blackhawks were eager to have Foligno on board and he was equally excited to play for another Original Six team.

“I’m enjoying it in Chicago and being in that leadership role. I think that’s because of the responsibility that comes with it. It’s so humbling to have an organization reach out and want you to help build a culture and help our young players. I take that very seriously.”

The opportunity prompted Foligno to look back on his career, which includes being awarded the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award and King Clancy Memorial Trophy in the 2016-17 season.

“It makes you look back to when you came into the league, and I realize how lucky I was to have guys that took my development seriously not because they needed to but because they knew it was the right thing,” said Foligno, who played alongside Daniel Alfredsson and Wade Redden during his first years in Ottawa.

“As much as you want to be a player who can contribute on the ice and push the needle that way, there is also the side of sharing the life experiences I have gone through, on and off the ice, which hopefully makes them professionals and want to do the same one day themselves.

Foligno laughed at the recollection of his early interactions with established players, especially the repetition of a particular saying. He has found himself using those same words with players like Bedard.

“I hate saying that now because when I came in, all the guys would tell me, ‘Enjoy it because it goes by fast.’ But man, does it go by fast. I think the reason why it does is because now you are seeing other 18- and 19-year-olds coming in and you realize that used to be you. It makes you sit back and appreciate everything that has gone on in your career and what an amazing ride it has been. It really has come full circle.”

The eldest son of Mike Foligno, who played 1,018 NHL games, has long been acquainted with the value of building good relationships within the game.

“That’s what makes this league great, that players are always looking out for the next guy. The beauty of the team atmosphere is that you are trying to make it better than how you found it. I have always taken that very seriously. I enjoy people and I like finding out what makes them tick. I feel very thankful that I walked into a locker room that made me feel that way when I started out.”

For as much as his focus is on helping others succeed, Foligno’s recent personal achievement caught him off guard. On November 26, he skated in his 1,100th NHL game a milestone he was not aware of until that morning.

“I didn’t even realize it was coming. My wife, Janelle, had to tell me the day of the game. You always hear about 1,000 games and you are so appreciative of everything as you get closer to that number. You are so excited to join the club, so to speak, and you enjoy the moment when it does come. It makes you realize how far you’ve come.

“Now, it’s about enjoying the experience, as much as you are chasing that number of games. It’s been nice. The 1,000 games was always something in my family. My dad reached it, and I always thought that was a great marker of a career not to say any fewer games isn’t but that was always something big in my house and I wanted to have a silver stick like my dad. But that 1,100 games it sure snuck up on me. It’s cool to say that number. I still feel I have more to give this game and want to give the game, but also feel very blessed to have it been so long. I have been impacted by so many people and I hope I have impacted others along the way, too.”

As one of the game’s most respected players, there is no doubt Foligno has done exactly that. For as many more NHL games he plays, he will continue to do the same.

Whenever he does share lessons learned, words of encouragement or helpful advice, Foligno will do it already having established a rapport with his peers.

“The beauty of hockey is that there are so many life lessons in it. What goes on in a room or a game can easily be transferred to life outside of that. I have been shaped by a lot of players in this league, whether it’s listening to them or watching them, so I hope to do that for a lot of guys here. But at the same time they are doing that for me, too. That makes me grateful.”