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Foligno brothers finally face off

The Buffalo Sabres' incredible injury bug created a neat family reunion Tuesday in Scotiabank Place.

It was Foligno versus Foligno as 20-year-old Marcus Foligno made his NHL debut for Buffalo while his brother, 24-year-old Nick Foligno, played his 303rd game for the Ottawa Senators. About 30 family and friends from Sudbury, Ont., made the five-hour drive to watch the game -- including the Folignos' father, former Sabres captain Mike Foligno. Nick and Marcus were both born in Buffalo.

"It's exciting for me, exciting for [Nick], exciting for the family," Marcus said prior to the game. "He was pretty pumped. He was texting me all day [Monday] to see if I was getting called up. He was giving me advice. He's been doing that all year."

Foligno and fellow Rochester forward Derek Whitmore, who was also called up Monday night, had an arduous travel day to get here. The Amerks played three games in three days over the weekend in Texas and the pair had a 6:45 a.m. bus ride to the airport in Houston. They took two flights to Rochester, arriving at 4:30 p.m., and then were shuttled by car the five hours or so to Ottawa.

Foligno started the game and played with Paul Gaustad and Zack Kassian. Whitmore was on left wing on the fourth line with Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick.

"It's been a little bit of a whirlwind as far as travel but we're definitely glad to be here," Whitmore said.

Nick Foligno met his brother at the Sabres' hotel Monday night to say hello. Asked Tuesday to describe Marcus, a smiling Nick said, "He's ugly."

Nick Foligno then turned serious and paid tribute to his brother, a fourth-round pick in 2009 who blossomed on Team Canada's entry to last year's World Junior Championships in Buffalo.

"You hear the late bloomer kind of thing. For Marcus, it was mental," Nick said. "He always had the physical side of being a great player. It was just committing himself to wanting to do that."

Marcus Foligno has nine goals and three assists thus far in his first pro season.

"The preseason [with the Sabres] was huge," Marcus said. "It made me open my eyes more and see what my role can be here."

There was a tinge of emotion to the matchup as well. Mike Foligno's wife and the brothers' mother, Janis, died of breast cancer in 2009. Mike Foligno only made it to the game because he got fired earlier this month as an assistant in Anaheim when head man Randy Carlyle was let go.

"We think it's probably the best Christmas present we ever got," Nick said of the brothers' matchup. "We feel like my mom probably had a little something to do with that. It's pretty special."

"The family as a whole has gone through some tough times here in recent years," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "To have Marcus play against Nick and for Mike to be here, a former teammate of mine and he's a helluva guy. Both kids are great kids. It's a great family. For both his boys to be able to play in the NHL, you gotta be one proud father."

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Whitmore, who turned 26 on Saturday, leads the Amerks with 13 goals -- including a four-goal game -- and 20 points in 29 games. He's spent the last four years with Buffalo's AHL affiliate in Rochester and Portland and has 70 goals in 272 career AHL games.

"It seems like every year he finds a way of scoring 20-plus goals," Ruff said. "He's been an important piece for them. He's got a knack for the net and for scoring big goals."

Whitmore, who is from the Rochester suburb of Greece, played pee-wee games at then-Marine Midland Arena.

"It definitely means a lot," he said. "This year has been good so far. It means a lot wearing the Rochester Americans jersey being from Rochester but at the same time Buffalo was my team as a kid growing up. I was wondering if one day I'd ever be able to play in the NHL, let alone for the Buffalo Sabres. It's definitely a dream come true."

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Ruff was pleased with how Patrick Kaleta and Brad Boyes looked during the morning skate Tuesday and said they both could be options for Thursday's game in Toronto.

Meanwhile, defenseman Tyler Myers was cleared to return to the team and grip his stick. Myers, who broke his wrist Nov. 19, skated in the morning and did stickhandling drills with assistant coach Teppo Numminen.

"We got good news with his last visit [to the doctor]," Ruff said. "He can handle the puck now and hopefully we can progress him along quickly."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com