Sudbury Wolves great Mike Foligno joined the team as an underage junior in 1975-76 when he was one of two area players that teams in the then-Ontario Major Junior A League were allowed to have on their roster in addition to drafted and invited players.
The youngster stepped into a stacked lineup.
“It was a powerful team, that’s for sure,” said Foligno, who steered the Wolves to an Eastern Conference title as coach and general manager in 2007. “I think that 19 of the 20 guys on the Wolves from my first season ended up playing pro hockey at one point or another.”
On a talent-laden veteran squad that had Rod Schutt, Ron Duguay and Alex McKendry all being 100-point producers, Foligno was happy to play on the fourth line along with Dan McCarthy and John Walker, another local player.
Other key players in Sudbury during Foligno’s first season with the Wolves included Dave Hunter and Hector Marini. During his third season, another high profile player, Dale Hunter, now coach of the London Knights, came over in a trade from Kitchener.
“Dale played in Sudbury the exact same way he played in Quebec and Washington and throughout his entire NHL career,” said Foligno. “He was one of the grittiest, nastiest players to play against. He would get in your face.”
Foligno himself relished playing major junior hockey in his hometown.
“It’s a different story for every player, but for me it was a tremendous opportunity,” he recalled. “My father passed away when I was 10 years-old and if I had to move away to play hockey, perhaps I would not have been able to because we just could not afford it.
“But staying in Sudbury to play for the Wolves worked out very well. There were some great people taking care of me and our family situation,” he said. “We received lots of support, and we were able to keep together.”
Jerry Toppazzini was Foligno’s head coach with the Wolves during his first season-and-a-half and Foligno is still grateful for it.
“He was one of my most memorable coaches ever,” he said. “He wouldn’t let me get away with anything. He wanted me to push on every day and in every practice. You had to earn your stripes and opportunities with Jerry. He really brought out the best of me at that stage of my career.”
Playing junior hockey in his hometown helped prepare Foligno to come back, years later, to coach and manage the Wolves. He also had the opportunity to coach his sons Nick and Marcus who both graduated to lengthy NHL careers. Nick was a first round pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2006 who has gone on to play in over 900 NHL contests and now wears the ‘C’ for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Four years younger, Marcus is approaching the 600-game milestone and has split his NHL tenure between the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild.
“I think I know the expectations of our home fans,” said the senior Foligno during his time behind the bench. “I know the type of hockey that they enjoy.”
Written by Aaron Bell