There weren't many spots up for grabs when Team Canada met in mid-December in Toronto for its selection camp. Most of the players already had big credentials, with 15 first-round draft picks on the roster and several with previous national team experience.
The biggest surprise to make the team easily has been Sabres draftee Marcus Foligno. The Buffalo-born winger and son of former Sabres captain Mike Foligno simply forced his way on to Hockey Canada's radar over the last month and is on a line with fellow Sabres pick Zack Kassian and top draft-eligible junior Sean Couturier.
"There's been a lot of hard work," Foligno said earlier this week. "Getting that knock on the door and finding out I made Team Canada was probably the best moment of my career so far."
Foligno was an unheralded winger from Sudbury when he was added to last month's Ontario Hockey League roster for a Super Series all-star game against Russia. He played well and got invited to Canada's main camp.
He scored a couple of goals in the first intrasquad scrimmage and couldn't be ignored. Now he'll be on the ice Sunday at 4 as Canada opens the tournament against the Russians in HSBC Arena.
"A good OHL versus Russia game helped me out and certainly helped out how they thought of me," he said. "The first intrasquad game I stood out a little bit and got them to notice me a little bit more. They knew I was coming for a role on this team."
"He came out of nowhere," head Canadian scout Kevin Prendergast told TSN. "We threw him in the game in Sudbury against the Russians and he was one of the best players on the ice and he earned the opportunity to get here. [At the camp] every time he was on the ice something happened. Kudos to him for earning a spot."
Foligno was selected in the fourth round by the Sabres in 2009. Like Kassian, he has improved his offensive game immensely this year with 15 goals and 33 points in 28 games for Sudbury. Last year he had 14 goals and 39 points in 67 games.
Foligno has gone through Sabres summer development camps at Niagara University and said a big key for him this year was the exposure at the team's September rookie camp and main camp in HSBC Arena.
"That was the biggest process that I went through," he said. "I worked out with them in the summer and got to go to their training camp. The whole experience of playing with an NHL team gives you more confidence. Coming back into this year, I knew how to take it and become a better player."
Marcus was born in Western New York on Aug. 10, 1991, near the end of his father's career with the Sabres. Mike Foligno, who coached his son last year in Sudbury, is now an assistant in Anaheim. Older brother Nick plays for the Ottawa Senators.
"My dad was pretty pumped when I called him with the news [of his selection to the team]," Marcus said. "He was ecstatic. He was just waking up so he had that classic raspy voice going. Same with Nick. He was excited too. It was awesome to have them get that word and have them along to help me out."
To talk to Marcus Foligno is to talk to Mike. It's a baby-faced version of that same distinctive voice, although the nose has yet to be twisted in the multiple directions that dad's was.
But like his father, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Foligno is a nose-to-the-grindstone player. Canada has plenty of those in this tournament.
"We think we can take a toll on teams' defense," he said. "We've got big guys, a lot of big boys from the back end up."
Canada won its three exhibitions this week by a combined score of 17-3 as 13 different players tallied goals. Foligno had a goal and two assists in the three games.
Foligno got exposure in Buffalo in July and September but now he'll be one of the most watched players here in one of the biggest tournaments in the world. And he's ready for the attention.
"This was a goal in the back of my head right from the get-go when I learned this tournament was in Buffalo," he said. "I wanted to make this team and it being in Buffalo was icing on the cake.
"It's going to be great to be in front of fans that hopefully I'm playing for in a couple years."