By Mike Commito, Wolves Historian
When Mike Foligno thinks back to his memories of playing with Rod Schutt in the 1975-76 season, the first thing he remembers was how much he, and team’s other young players, looked up to Rod. “He was the consummate professional. He always came to play every night. He was very competitive. That was one of his best traits,” Foligno reflected.
In addition to Schutt’s competitive spirit, Foligno recalls how committed he was to developing his game. “He really worked on his skills in practice especially. He would be the guy who would be taking extra shots from certain spots on the ice just to really sharpen up where, not just getting pucks on net but putting as much as he could behind the shot and being very accurate with his shooting percentage,” he noted. “With his incredible scoring ability, his shot literally put the fear of God in some goaltenders,” Foligno added.
It was that combination of work ethic and innate scoring ability, along with playing on an incredible team, that allowed Schutt to score 72 goals that season, a club record that will likely stand the test of the time. “It’s the most anybody has ever scored in all these years of Sudbury Wolves hockey. I saw it firsthand and it wasn’t easily done,” Foligno marveled.
Beyond Schutt’s ability to light the lamp, seemingly at will, his scoring prowess was always a difference maker for the team. “There were nights when nothing was going on and he literally would get us back in the game or get us that one-goal lead or get us the win,” Foligno noted.
Schutt led by example on the ice, but Foligno also remembers how he was just as committed to helping the team’s younger players. “He didn’t just worry about his own game and his own style of play, he wanted to help us become better players as well,” Foligno recollected. It was also the little things that Schutt did off the ice that stuck with him. “He gave us rides too, I didn’t have a car and he’d make sure that we got rides to different places that we had to get to,” he said. For rookies like Foligno, that type of generosity made a big difference in his life. “He made sure they all felt like they were part of the team and that was a great characteristic for him to have,” he fondly recalled.
Following the 1975-76 season, in which the Wolves advanced all the way to the J. Ross Robertson Cup final against the Hamilton Fincups, Schutt was drafted thirteenth overall by the Montreal Canadiens. With the Canadiens already flush with Steve Shutt, Yvon Lambert, Bob Gainey, and Murray Wilson down the left side, Schutt was sent to the club’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Halifax Voyageurs. “Halifax ended up being such a strong team that they could have probably beaten some NHL teams because they were so deep,” Foligno suggested. Schutt ended up posting 84 points in Halifax that season and wound up winning the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s top rookie, but Foligno thinks he could have been playing in the NHL. “He didn’t get the chance in the NHL right away, but if he would’ve been drafted by a different team, he probably would’ve been in the NHL right away because he was that good,” he proclaimed.
While Schutt’s pro career took off in Nova Scotia, Foligno took a page out of his former teammate’s book, scoring 65 goals for Sudbury in the 1978-79 campaign. Foligno won the league scoring title that year and came close to catching Schutt’s goal-scoring record, but it was not something he thought about during the season. “I don’t think I ever focused on the number of goals in trying to catch Rod that year. I think it was still so out of reach with that number. I think it was more about trying to get our team in the playoffs,” Foligno said.
The way Schutt treated Foligno during their time together on the Wolves, is the reason why the two of them are still friends more than forty years later. “We still remain friends to this day because of that association. We always stayed in touch over the years. There was always mutual respect between us because of the way he treated me as a rookie,” he reminisced.
Foligno, who had his number retired in 1996, is elated to experience that feeling again when his friend’s jersey will join his in the rafters. “What he did on the ice was incredible. Rod dedicated himself to being the best player and helping this team be the best it could possibly be during his tenure here. This is probably a long overdue honour and I’m really happy for him, especially for his family. They get a chance to see it,” he exclaimed.
Thinking ahead to Friday’s ceremony, Foligno remembers the sense of pride he felt when he was recognized. For Foligno, however, more important than the individual sense of accomplishment is what those jerseys mean to the team’s younger and future players. “When players come to play for a hockey team and they come to play for a community and they look up and see that if they give up everything of themselves for the success of the team and put their bodies and skills on the line every night, they’ll be recognized for a long time to come. That’s quite a tribute. It’s a great feeling for the young players the Sudbury Wolves have right now to see that you will be recognized if you accomplish great things here,” Foligno declared.
Although Foligno came just seven goals shy of matching Schutt’s record in 1978-79, he recently got the better of his long-time friend. “We recently had a homemade wine tasting, and it was the only time I beat Rod in anything. My wine was actually better than his this year,” he laughed heartily. But that’s a story for another day.
The Wolves will be sending Rod Schutt’s number to the rafters on November 2, 2018, before hosting the Erie Otters. Tickets are available at greatersudbury.ca/tickets.