RALEIGH — Seventeen springs ago, Bates Battaglia donned an unlucky number, became a clutch playoff performer, and parlayed that career into becoming a fixture on Glenwood South and a reality-TV show champion.
The way Warren Foegele is playing, he might well have an ownership interest in Lucky B’s by the time June rolls around.
There aren’t many hockey players willing to tempt the sport’s ever-present gods by taking on number 13, but the Carolina Hurricanes seem to have anything but bad luck with that supposedly cursed number.
Players wearing number 13 have played a part in two lengthy Canes playoff runs of old. In 2002, Battaglia was part of the Canes’ rough-and-tumble BBC Line with Erik Cole and now-Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour. Four years later, it was Ray Whitney tying two other players for second on the team with nine goals in the playoffs as the Canes captured the Stanley Cup.
The 23-year-old Foegele is quickly joining that fraternity of players who rise to the occasion at crunch time.
Foegele’s goal 17 seconds into Thursday’s Game 4, en route to a 2-1 Canes win over the Washington Capitals that sends a tied series back to D.C. for Game 5 on Saturday, was his third in two games, and they’ve all been timely. His opening goal ten minutes into Monday’s Game 3 boatracing set the tone for what might have been the most complete game the Canes had played all year. Then, on Thursday, he outdid himself.
Before the end of the game’s first shift, Foegele had added to his quickly-growing legend, scoring the fastest goal in Hurricanes postseason history, both from the start of a game and the start of a period. It was a throwback to the beginning of the season, when Foegele forced himself onto the opening night roster, then proceeded to rip off five points in the first seven games of the year.
He’s matched that total in the playoffs, tying Jaccob Slavin for the team lead in points while leading outright in goals.
Foegele might be the perfect Rod Brind’Amour player. He’ll never wow anyone, but he has an underrated offensive touch, and he’s capable of big minutes despite only being in his first year as a full-time NHLer. He came on strong with goals in the final two games of the season, including the first goal in what eventually became the playoff-clinching win over the New Jersey Devils in the penultimate game of the season.
Unsurprisingly for a player in his first full season, Foegele went through some growing pains. But he never lost his spot in the lineup, playing a key role on the fourth line even when his scoring touch abandoned him, and now with Micheal Ferland sidelined indefinitely and Andrei Svechnikov on the shelf until further notice, the Canes have needed Foegele to regain his early-season form.
Prior to the game, Brind’Amour spoke about what has made Foegele so successful this season. “In training camp he played that way, he earned his way onto the team and into a top-line role. There was a little fallback, and for young guys that’s just normal. And then other guys kind of took off, so he never really got the opportunity to get back into that spot. The other night, the opportunity was there, and he made the best of it.”
DId he ever. It’s been a nearly perfect series for Foegele to make a mark, a physical series played along the boards and providing the opportunity for dirty goals aplenty. That’s going to be Foegele’s calling card as an NHL player, and right now he’s filling the role as well as anyone.
It earned some high praise from his captain. Justin Williams knows a thing or two about delivering the goods in the postseason, and he was effusive in his praise of Foegele’s game.
“He is the prototypical playoff guy,” said the player who most fans would identify as just that. “He works his tail off, he’s big, I feel like he’s kind of built for playoffs. He’s been a horse for us, and I know he’s going to continue to be.”
There’s still a long way to go to etch Foegele’s name firmly into the lore of previous Canes’ difference-makers who wore unlucky 13; the intervening post-Whitney years have seen the number donned by Anthony Stewart and Jared Staal, neither long for the memory. But with Foegele’s play, at a time when the Hurricanes desperately need it, there’s no doubt that this year’s lucky 13 is well on his way to joining that club.