By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO — Don’t fret, Sabres fans. The Foligno jump is coming. It’ll just have to take place following Marcus Foligno’s second goal.
The top prospect planned to honor his father, popular former Sabres captain Mike Foligno, by leaping into the air to celebrate his first big league score.
Mike jumped after about every one of his 355 goals from 1979-94. Marcus’ brother Nick Foligno, a Senators winger, paid homage once as a rookie in 2007.
Only when Marcus Foligno tallied the tying goal late Saturday in Ottawa, he wasn’t sure he had actually scored. It appeared Drew Stafford might’ve knocked the puck past goalie Ben Bishop.
The 20-year-old Foligno, who was born in Buffalo and spent part of his childhood here, couldn’t leap for an assist, right?
“He knew what my mindset was,” Foligno said about his father, who planned to watch his First Niagara Center debut Monday, a 3-2 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens, prior to his third NHL game. “He knew I wanted to do it but it was one of those goals I didn’t know who touched it.
“So you don’t want to celebrate when it’s not your goal like that. I was happy to get that first one out of the way.”
He added: “If I ever score here, I’ll do it in front of the fans.”
The rookie’s being modest. It’s possible the 6-foot-2, 215-pound winger will enjoy a long career here.
On Monday, he skated early on the left side with Tyler Ennis and Thomas Vanek, a surprise addition following a one-game absence (upper body). Stafford replaced Vanek later. Foligno assisted on Ennis’ second-period score, his first NHL helper.
Foligno’s quick progression allowed the Sabres to send youngster Zack Kassian to Vancouver at the trade deadline. General manager Darcy Regier was confident he would replace Kassian’s toughness.
He has 14 goals, 34 points, 70 penalty minutes and a plus-13 rating in 55 AHL games.
“(The season) could’ve gone a little bit better,” Foligno said. “If I just got the confidence a little bit earlier, I would’ve been able to develop more as a player. It’s been tremendous so far and worked out in Rochester developing. So it’s been a good year.”
With forward Matt Ellis “gone for a good period of time” after suffering a knee injury in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win, Foligno could stick around for a little while, possibly even the rest of the season.
“You want to look at is as the year,” Foligno said. “But I think if you want to stick around longer you got to look at it day-to-day. Every day’s a competition. You got bring your best. … I want to make the best of these games to come.”
Foligno had been on a yo-yo from the AHL to the Sabres, earning three separate emergency recalls in eight days. First, he flew went from Rochester to Vancouver and back, and then to Winnipeg and back without playing.
The trips were exhilarating and tiring, he said.
Finally, Foligno played his second NHL game Saturday, skating 16 minutes with Ennis and Stafford.
At 14:06 of the third period, Foligno scored, throwing the puck out front from beside the net after he had chased down Sergei Gonchar hard and forced him off the puck.
“I got Gonchar in kind of a footrace and he kind of tripped and fell, one of the lucky bounces that you needed to go your way,” Foligno said. “It was just a big-time goal for the team.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who played with the elder Foligno, called Marcus a “big boy” and liked the tenacity he showcased in creating the goal.
“Quite a bit bigger than his dad was,” Ruff said. “When you look at it, he’s physically intimidating. I’ve seen him in training camp stuff and intrasquad games where he’s scored a lot nicer goals than that. He has the size that he can create this kind of opportunities.”
Ruff had said he expected Vanek, who absorbed a big hit Thursday from Boston’s Johnny Boychuk, to miss another game. The Austrian hadn’t even skated.
But Vanek participated in the morning skate Monday, and then said he planned to return.
Vanek played the right wing early, a rarity this season.
It’s believed Vanek has been nursing a shoulder injury for a couple of months. He said the hit didn’t re-aggravate anything, however.
Meanwhile, defenseman Andrej Sekera’s flu has worsened to pneumonia.
“Sekera has taken another turn for the worse,” Ruff said. “He hasn’t even left home yet.”
Ruff wouldn’t say if Ellis’ season is over.
“I’m not going to put a timeframe on it but it’s not good news,” he said.
The Sabres held a moment of silence prior to the game for Rick Martin, the legendary goal scorer who died suddenly a year ago.