What has it been like to play center after spending an entire professional career on the wing? What exactly did the Columbus Blue Jackets do to upset the hockey gods this season? And what does the future hold for pending unrestricted free agent Nick Foligno? The veteran forward answers those questions and more.
KATIE STRANG: So, you recently moved back to the middle after playing the wing for most of your NHL career. How has that been?
NICK FOLIGNO: Good. Actually, I'm enjoying it. I played it my whole career in junior and then I got to the NHL and Ottawa was a pretty deep team down the middle, so I moved to wing and I enjoyed it, but I really like the responsibility that comes with [playing] center and the freedom you have to make plays and enjoying it so far.
STRANG: What's been the biggest transition with the move?
FOLIGNO: Just down low. I think there's a lot more skating involved. Now you're the guy that has to be down low in the defensive zone, even when the puck gets chipped in. Sometimes as wingers you can kind of post up on the half-wall and let the guys do the work, so that's the biggest thing, just getting back and making sure your feet are still moving so you can be in good position defensively and then also to have the energy to get up in the offensive zone.
STRANG: You're a guy who spent a lot of time down low anyway, it seems. Does that make it a little bit easier?
FOLIGNO: Yeah, big time. I always kind of found myself gravitating that way and that's probably why [the coaches] were like, 'If he's going to do it anyways, might as well move him over there.' No, I'm enjoying it. It's been good and I've had good wingers. I've got to get a little better in the faceoff circle, but other than that it's been a pretty good transition.
STRANG: Yeah, how has that been?
FOLIGNO: It's just different. Guys have the tricks of the trade because they've done it a lot and obviously at this level, everyone's so good at faceoffs. It's such a key part of the game, so it's something I'm trying to work on and get better at.
STRANG: Who's been the toughest to face off against for you?
FOLIGNO: Ooh, I've had a few. There have been a couple guys. [Brandon] Sutter was pretty good. We just played them -- Pittsburgh. Before that it was Washington, so Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer were both pretty good. Those are guys that are pretty tough to go against.
STRANG: So, this season, you clearly ticked off the hockey gods or something ...
FOLIGNO: Someone did something this summer ...
STRANG: How hard was that rash of injuries to go through and how do you keep a young team on message when that happens?
FOLIGNO: I think that was the hardest part. We just didn't have enough experience in that sense. We're a young team and I think we allowed it to get to us mentally more than anything. Sometimes you battle injuries and you have an older team and they've gone through it. I think for us, we sort of got caught up in the emotional side of it and didn't really notice what the key focus needed to be, and that was to get prepared no matter who was in the lineup and play the right way. You saw it kind of slip a little bit but we found ourselves. Sometimes that's what happens with a young team and it's on older guys like myself and older guys in the room to make sure we steer it in the right directions, so we took that personally and it's great to see that we're going in the right direction now and playing the right way, and I think we've learned from our past mistakes.
STRANG: How different is it in the room these days than it was the first few months?
FOLIGNO: Oh, the confidence is there. You can see it. I think the younger guys have come along really nicely and we've had a lot of new faces, so I think they've found their roles with the team and I think it's allowed us to play more cohesive as a team. [Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky] has been playing great for us. That always helps any team, when you have a hot goaltender. We've got to keep that going. We're finding a lot of good ways to play good hockey right now and we need that to continue.
Columbus Blue Jackets
STRANG: You're a pending unrestricted free agent, so I'm sure you'll be getting asked this a lot in the near future, but what's your expectation about how this will go and what would you like to see happen?
FOLIGNO: It's funny. This is my first time kind of going through it. I'm kind of green but obviously my first priority is to want to sign with the [Blue Jackets]. I love it here. I feel like I've really started to build something here and I want to see this team through because I think we have a lot of key components to being a winning team. I want to help in that regard, so that's definitely the case, but it's a business and you realize that the longer it goes. It's definitely somewhere where I want to invest time in and hopefully get a deal done, but I know that you have to look out for family as well and do what's right for you personally.
STRANG: When your teammate Ryan Johansen was going through his rather protracted contract negotiations, were you taking note of what was going on, observing from the sideline and thinking of what you might need to do to prepare yourself, if you were ever in a similar situation?
FOLIGNO: Exactly. You stay out of it. It's their business and I've got more to worry about with playing hockey. Obviously, you keep an eye on it because it's a guy you care about and it's your organization, but I think it's hopefully going to be a totally different situation [for me]. It's a business. I look at it that way. I've been traded, so I understand the business side of hockey now. You can't really take anything personally. It's the unfortunate side of the game and contracts have to be dealt with, but as long as both sides are happy and come to an agreement, then I think it's good for both sides.