Michael Fogolin, a rising young hockey player who died overnight Wednesday, always dreamed of the National Hockey League -- but never more so than after last fall's Heritage Classic when he saw his famous father play in an Edmonton Oilers jersey.
"It only got fuelled more by the Heritage Classic when Mike was able to see his dad play live for the first time," Dallas Thompson, the general manager of the Prince George Cougars, Fogolin's Western Hockey League team, said yesterday. "That's where Mike wanted to be."
Fogolin's father, Lee, was a much-loved member of the classic 1980s Oilers teams that included stars such as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri.
Lee Fogolin was the team's captain from 1981 to 1983 before handing the C to Gretzky. He won Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1984 and in 1985.
That team was reunited in Edmonton last November for a nostalgic outdoor game against former Montreal Canadiens stars such as Guy Lafleur. The game was watched by 50,000 cold but happy fans.
One of them was Michael Fogolin. The Cougars were in Spokane, Wash., that weekend. He had planned to watch the game on TV, but an injury kept him off the ice and he was able to fly home to Edmonton and follow his dad around.
"He said it was an eye opener," Thompson said.
"He got to go into the dressing room and there was Wayne Gretzky there and all the old stars and [Mike]ate it up. That was what Mike was about and that's where he wanted to be some day."
The cause of Fogolin's death was not immediately determined but early reports said he may have had a heart condition. Autopsy results aren't expected for two to four months.
Fogolin, a 17-year-old defenceman, died in bed after spending a quiet evening at his Edmonton home with his parents and his older brother, Rory, a former Alberta Junior Hockey League player.
Fogolin didn't need much fuel for his fire.
"The burning desire to be a player was so big in Mike," Thompson said. "He knew what he wanted and went out to get it."
That desire is part of what drew the Cougars to draft Fogolin at 14.
Cracking a WHL lineup is a steep challenge for any 5-foot-11, 170-pound teen. But Thompson said Fogolin's desire set him apart.
"It was a big transition for him. He worked very hard and was very attentive to his coaches. "When Mike was a healthy scratch he was mad. When he found out he wasn't playing, he'd be down at the gym after school working out till the game was on and then he'd watch and learn from the game."
Fogolin played 42 games on defence with the Cougars this season. He scored two goals and added three assists with 35 minutes in penalties. He missed time during the season because of hand, wrist and knee injuries. "I'm going to remember Mike as a caring, caring person," said Thompson, who had Fogolin live in his home for a couple weeks last December.