BUFFALO – Marcus and Nick Foligno are brothers, sons of retired NHLer Mike. Father Mike played some 1,018 regular-season games with Detroit, Buffalo, Toronto, and Florida, but his stay with the Sabres was the longest and most memorable of his career. He was with that team for a decade (1981-91), and it was during these years that he had his two sons.
The boys, of course, became rink rats, and pretty good hockey players to boot, but with a four-year difference in age they weren’t always playing the game together. And there begins a curious story which saw the elder Nick represent the United States at two World Championships (2009, 2010) and Marcus play for Canada here at the U20 in Buffalo. They are two of a small group of brothers who have such divided loyalties.
The two other prominent pairs of brothers who fit into this category are the Reichels and the Tikals. Robert Reichel represented the Czech Republic many times, but his brother, Martin, played for Germany. Both appeared at the Olympics, World Championships, and World Cup of Hockey.
Frantisek Tikal, meanwhile, was a well-respected Czechoslovak in the late 1950s and throughout the ‘60s, but his brother, Zdenek, played for Australia at the 1960 Olympics.
As for the Folignos, their national divergence was a natural one. “With Nick, he started his hockey career in Hershey in the States, and he started the U.S. development program when he was about 15 or 16 years old,” Marcus explained. “For me, I was living in Canada at the time so it was natural I’d play for Canada.”
Indeed, Nick joined the U.S. National Team Development Program for two years, 2003-05, but then returned to Canada to play for Sudbury in the OHL when his father coached the team. Nick was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2006 and has been an integral part of the team since midway through the 2007-08 season. He wore number 71, which his father wore in Toronto, and which is the reverse of the 17 that Mike wore all those years in Buffalo. Marcus wears number 17 for Canada here at the U20 for the same reason.
However, because of his link to the USNTDP, Nick accepted an invitation to play for the United States at the 2009 World Championship in Switzerland. He played again this year when the tournament was hosted by Germany.
Was it awkward to see big brother to play for the other side, as it were? “Nick developed more in the U.S.,” Marcus explained. “Really, I was just happy for him to have the opportunity to play in the World Championships, but in the future, if we ever play against each other, Canada against the U.S., I’ll be looking forward to that.”
Yet Marcus never had that same feeling of playing for the Americans. “I never got noticed by USA Hockey,” he explained, “so it’s not like I had a choice to play in one country or the other. But that didn’t matter. It was always in my mind to play for Canada, and I wanted to be here.”
Father Mike sits in the stands on this dilemma, a proud parent regardless of children’s passport. “I think our dad is just happy we got the opportunity to play in this tournament,” said Marcus. “Whatever country we’re playing for, it’s a big deal. For me to represent Team Canada is special for me and my family. My dad was a Canadian, so it was special for him, too.”
Another special family moment came in 2009 when Marcus was drafted by the very Sabres his dad had played so long and hard for a generation earlier. “It seemed like it was meant to be,” Marcus said of the selection. Another coincidence is that earlier in that ’09 draft the Sabres selected Zack Kassian, a Canadian teammate of Foligno’s here at the U20.
Marcus and brother Nick have kept in close contact during the U20’s, the older offering support however possible. “Yeah, we’re texting every day, mostly him giving me a bit of advice, so we’re going back and forth.”
Marcus has had an excellent tournament to date, scoring twice and providing some grit to go with the skill. He has a few crucial games coming up, and more time in Sudbury before getting to the NHL, but if his father and brother can do it, Marcus can, too.