BOSTON – Nick Foligno was determined to enjoy and appreciate this first Winter Classic experience in his 1,058th career NHL game, and the former longtime Columbus Blue Jackets captain did exactly that while continuing to play a vital role on and off the ice for the Boston Bruins.
The 34-year-old Foligno didn’t factor into the scoring in his 10:08 of ice time, but he did throw five hits and finish with a couple of shot attempts while marveling, at times, at the sold-out Fenway Park crowd around him enjoying the Winter Classic show put on by the NHL, Fenway Park and unique features like the Boston Pops playing musical interludes where centerfield usually sits at the ballpark.
It lived up to his hopes and expectations for his first NHL outdoor game, and then some.
“Well, I’ll say that I scored the two goals,” said a smiling Nick Foligno, when asked what stories he’ll tell about the Winter Classic experience years down the road when some may have forgotten that Jake DeBrusk scored both third period strikes for the victory. “I got to do this with a group of guys that I truly care about and in an atmosphere that you dream about. You watch these games all your career and see how special they are and what they mean to players, and then to be in one…the way we dressed up [in old time Red Sox uniforms] before the game was a great idea by [Patrice Bergeron] and it’s those things that you’ll remember.
“Having my kids with me and experiencing that with them as they’ve gotten older, those are the things that you cherish. That’s what makes hockey so special. It really is a family atmosphere, and they really do care about those moments, and they allow you to enjoy them. So when you get an opportunity you want to make the most of it.”
Best of all, though, was what Foligno brought to the table from a leadership perspective as he addressed all his Boston Bruins teammates in the Red Sox home clubhouse between the second and third periods prior to their two-goal comeback in a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday afternoon. Prior to that there hadn’t been much to write home about for the Black and Gold in a game where it seemed like they weren’t playing the simple style that an outdoor hockey game really dictates at the NHL level.
Foligno has become a valued lieutenant in the Boston Bruins leadership group that includes captain Patrice Bergeron and longtime fellow veteran B’s leaders Brad Marchand and David Krejci, and he filled that role to perfection when his hockey teammates needed to hear from him during the second intermission.
“In the third period this team finds ways to raise their level and take over a game,” said Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery. “At the end of the second [period], Foligno asked if he could have the room and I said ‘Yes, you can.’ And we were 1-1 [in the third period] and Pittsburgh was forechecking us and we weren’t getting pucks out and I was getting a little negative. Patrice Bergeron just goes ‘we’re going to be alright’ and it was another way for us to communicate to be like ‘these guys have got it’ and I can just kind of shut up behind the bench.”
"He's a lot tougher than people think and he's more committed than people are aware. Because of those things, his game is growing. He's matured and you can see it." — Coach Montgomery on @JDebrusk pic.twitter.com/9oHgmbZeSR
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 3, 2023
Montgomery has talked at length this season about the Boston Bruins leadership and how it’s a different dynamic than he’s ever experienced before in his coaching career, and it played out that way again at the Winter Classic.
Foligno said he was simply relaying what he’s gleaned from talking to guys like Bergeron, who played in his fifth outdoor game and fourth Winter Classic on Monday at Fenway Park.
“These are moments that I think you look back on, in talking to guys like [Patrice Bergeron] and others that have played in them, and you only remember the ones you win. That was the talk,” said Foligno. “You’ve got to find a way to win this one and that’s going to make it that much better. I was really proud of all the guys for digging in. Now I’ll look back at this as one of the best memories of my career and hopefully we have a few more [memories] coming up in the spring.”
The Boston Bruins did just that with Brad Marchand shaking and baking before dishing to Jake DeBrusk down low for Boston’s game-tying goal, and then Taylor Hall driving the net and creating a rebound that DeBrusk popped in for the game-winner with just a few minutes remaining in the second period.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 2, 2023
“Especially after that second goal, you look around and the fans are going nuts,” said Foligno. “The reaction of the crowd and then at the end guys blocking shots and doing whatever they could to keep the puck out of our net, I think that just makes it all the more special to see how elated everybody is. You can’t help but enjoy that moment.”
But it all started with some words of wisdom between periods after the Boston Bruins hadn’t been fully satisfied with the way they’d played through the first 40 minutes of an iconic outdoor hockey game at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark. Foligno has really added something to the Boston Bruins this season and that was the case again in a Winter Classic setting where the B’s wanted to make another declarative winning statement as they have all season.