Game on: AHL season set to open tonight

by John Wawrow, Associated Press

(AP) — Marcus Foligno considers himself among the fortunate with the NHL lockout preparing to enter its second month.

As much as the hard-hitting forward would prefer to be wearing a Buffalo Sabres uniform, Foligno can appreciate there are far worse things than opening the season with Rochester of the American Hockey League.

Just ask his older brother Nick Foligno, a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who’s back home in Sudbury, Ontario, going stir crazy during the NHL lockout.

"He reminds me every day," said Foligno, who unlike his brother is eligible to play in the AHL.

"People think it’s tough to be down here, but it isn’t. It’s a great opportunity for myself," he said. "And I know from talking to Nick, he’s pretty bummed out every day, and he’s bored."

The NHL season, which was supposed to open on Thursday, remains on indefinite hold.

It’s "Game On" in the AHL, though, which prepares to open its season with a seven-game slate on Friday.

"I’m actually one of the lucky ones," said Foligno, the son of former Sabres captain Mike Foligno. "I’m excited, ready to get going."

From Albany, N.Y., to Abbotsford, British Columbia, Charlotte to San Antonio, Foligno will be one of about 100 NHL-caliber players competing in the 30-team AHL for however long it takes the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association to resolve their differences.

Two of the Flyers top youngsters, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, are playing for Adirondack in Glens Falls, N.Y. Forward Adam Henrique, a rookie of the year finalist with the Devils last year, is in Albany.

There’s a goalie glut in Abbotsford, the Calgary Flames affiliate, where the Heat feature three players with NHL experience, Leland Irving, Danny Taylor and Barry Brust

And then there’s the Oklahoma City Barons, whose lineup will include Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first pick in the 2011 draft, highly touted free agent Justin Schultz and Jordan Eberle. And don’t forget Taylor Hall, who is pegged to join the Barons once he’s fully recovered from a shoulder injury.

"They’ve pretty much got the first line from the Edmonton Oilers playing," AHL president/CEO David Andrews said. "I think it will probably have a number of fans sample the game that might not have. And we believe that once fans sample the game, and they see the caliber of play that it’ll gain some traction."

Andrews, however, has mixed emotions.

He’s excited about the influx of talent and the chance for the league to gain additional exposure in being the only game in town. And yet, Andrews would rather not have the extra attention come at the NHL’s expense.

"We would prefer the NHL would be playing," he said. "We think that’s the engine that drives the business of hockey and interest in the sport. So with the NHL not playing, it’s not a positive in terms of the long-term growth of our business."

Andrews didn’t have immediate figures on league-wide ticket sales for this season, but expects them to be up based on how AHL attendance increased during the last NHL lockout, which wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.

In Rochester, the Americans roster will feature eight players with NHL experience, including Foligno and center Cody Hodgson, who was one of Buffalo’s prized additions after being acquired in a deal with Vancouver in February.

Hodgson, who has 20 goals and 23 assists in 91 NHL games, considers playing in the minors as a chance to help him develop.

"I’m in full support of the union and what we’re trying to accomplish," Hodgson said. "Everyone’s looking to play hockey in the NHL, and everyone wants it to start. But I can just make sure that I’m ready and playing well here, and doing what I can to help this team."

Hodgson is already forming a bond with his teammates, and sharing an apartment with Foligno and defenseman Brayden McNabb.

Foligno is benefiting from Hodgson’s presence in more ways than one. Not only will the two likely play on the same line, Hodgson also is credited for making a mean egg for breakfast.

"He asks me what I want and he makes them," Foligno said, noting Hodgson uses organic eggs and adds coconut oil. "So I just sit at the kitchen table and wait for it, and it’s golden."

It’s another reason for Foligno to remind himself how good he’s got it.

"If the NHL doesn’t start, and I play a whole year here, if that’s the worst case, then I don’t think that’s pretty bad," Foligno said. "We’ll see. But hopefully it gets resolved."