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Foligno's beastly play a thing of beauty

Just a guess, but you can't get enough of this kid, correct? You're envisioning him wearing his father's No. 17 blue-and-gold sweater in a few years or less, bringing the necessary oomph, gumption and scoring touch that will give the Buffalo Sabres a component they have lacked for far too long.

Marcus Foligno isn't going to win any beauty pageants with his play, which makes his style that much more attractive in these parts. The game he played Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to Sweden was a drop-dead gorgeous combination of aggression, intelligence, size, skill, tenacity, maturity and filth.

Man, it was beautiful.

To review, Canada scored five goals against Sweden before losing the most entertaining game so far in the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship. Curtis Hamilton had two goals for Canada while leading scorer Brayden Schenn had one goal and set up another. Ryan Johansen had three assists.

Foligno didn't record a point in the game and skated off the ice with little more than a loss. Well, he had a loss and a trophy presented by Sabres coach Lindy Ruff to Canada's top player. He dominated almost from beginning to end and ran over everybody but the security guard watching the back door.

"I'm not a finesse player, that's for sure," Foligno said. "I have some hands that can beat some guys wide, but I know in order to be successful and be in the NHL, this tournament too, you just try to get into those spaces and hit them. It's something I'm trying to build on to become a complete player."

Foligno was a complete beast, the kind of rough-and-tumble gamer the Sabres need. He started on his opening shift and never really let up. He spent so much time in front of Sweden's crease that he should have paid $50 for parking like everybody else. He was there muscling for position on Canada's first goal, which was awarded to him before it was changed to Sean Couturier.

Heck, if the Sabres had more forwards playing with the same passion, they might actually challenge for a playoff spot.

Foligno drew two penalties in the third period alone. The first one was part of a two-man advantage that left the Swedes exhausted before they gave up a goal while trying to kill the second penalty. He drew a hooking penalty in the final seven minutes, but he was so beat from going so hard to the net that he couldn't help the power play.

He was in goalie Robin Lehner's face in the second period, passing along a few choice words he would rather not repeat, and was a nuisance all game. By the time he was finished, Foligno had the Swedes frustrated, flustered and calling him a few F-related adjectives. But if you were from Canada or Buffalo or both, in Ruff's case, he was nothing short of this:

Fabulous.

"I thought he played really well," Ruff said. "I thought he played really hard and really responsible. He's surprising a lot of people. Nobody really anticipated him even making the team, but he has been one of their better players. Size is something you can't teach, and he's using it really well. It's going to help him."

Certainly, Canada and its fans were looking at the game from a different perspective. Canada now has a longer road to the gold medal. In short, it made too many mistakes, didn't capitalize on its chances in the third period and allowed too many soft goals in what was considered a mild upset.

Sweden can be blamed for outplaying Canada and ruining any matchup between the United States and Canada in the gold-medal game. The best that can be taken from the outcome Friday is that Canada now has to play Sunday, which means Foligno could be playing an extra game in Buffalo.

We'll see what happens, but the former fourth-round pick already is a polished player whose game should translate well to the NHL. He's listed at 6-foot-1 but looks taller and plays about 6-4, 225. He and Zack Kassian could someday give the Sabres two big, physical forwards with good hands. Foligno could be the better player right now.

Take away the outcome, and the game Friday had everything Canadian and American fans love in a hockey game: great scoring chances, big hits, crazy bounces, drama and tension. Canada was under immense pressure, but Foligno showed no sign of nerves. If anything, he relished the opportunity to make an impact.

And it wasn't just for Canada. It was for you, too.

"I know there was a little bit of a buildup, but that's what I want to create here in Buffalo," he said. "I want people to be excited about my play. I'm just happy to have the opportunities in the World Juniors to represent Canada. To do it here in Buffalo is really special for me."

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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