Buffalo - September 22, 2014 - There once was a time where Patrick Kaleta was one of the most beloved players wearing the blue and gold of the Buffalo Sabres.
With his high energy, agitating style, it was hard not to like him. He was a hometown kid without a ton of talent skating his butt off each and every night, hitting everything that moved, just trying to make it in the big leagues.
After the Angola native earned his fourth NHL suspension, delivering a hit to the head of Columbus Blue Jacket Jack Johnson, it was a wonder if he’d ever suit up in the NHL again, much less for the Sabres. After all, the game has undergone many changes since Kaleta debuted and the tolerance for questionable hits has gone down exponentially. Players like Kaleta have to skate that line knowing that if they cross it, they could be type-cast as a dirty player for the rest of their career.
A banishment to the minors and an ACL tear later and it’s been 10 months since Kaleta suited up with his hometown team. “It was horrible,” Kaleta said about his season away from the Sabres. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It was the worst year of my professional career.”
Kaleta certainly seems suited for the style of play that head coach Ted Nolan brings to the table. Nolan is a no-fuss, skate-hard-all-the-time coach who demands maximum effort and accountability from his players. Kaleta is a firm believer that effort was something that was missing under the previous coaching regime.
“I think not only myself, but the other guys on the team, we’re going to be expected to at least go out there and compete and work hard,” he said. “Whereas last year, that wasn’t always the case.”
To his credit, Kaleta has had the attitude necessary to come back from yet another suspension. When he returned from his 10-game ban, former general manager Darcy Regier sent him to the AHL (after waiving him) with the message being that Kaleta could expect to stay there until he’d changed his tune. Now, Kaleta has to find a way to be that aggressive agitator that made him an effective presence without crossing the line that could cost him his NHL career. Kaleta insists he’s changed, but only time will tell if that’s true.
For Kaleta, 2014-15 will be about proving he belongs and proving that he can be effective to the Sabres without grabbing the kind of attention they’d rather do without. It’ll be a fine line to walk, but Kaleta – and those who cheered him – look forward to seeing him back in action.
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