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Jordan Sigalet's NHL dream was cut short by MS but he's grateful for the chance he had and the ability now to help those affected by the disease

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

On the surface, in the grand scheme of things, 43 seconds may not seem like much.

In truth, though, in those places of the heart where importance lies, 43 seconds in the right circumstances can linger a lifetime.

"I'd always looked up to Sean Burke,'' Jordan Sigalet is reminiscing, a dozen years minus one day later after his lone NHL appearance. "And I'll never forget, he was skating around in warm-up, no helmet on.

"Old school, right?

"I'm stretching at centre, then here comes this guy I look up to and he's stretching beside me, no helmet on. Just glances over and says: 'How's it going, kid? Good luck.' Taking time to talk to a young guy he knew was just up for a little bit and probably wouldn't be around long. Making him feel as if he belonged.

"I still have a picture of that.

"Such a cool moment for me."

Another anniversary of those 43 seconds - 857 fewer than pop artist/icon Andy Warhol predicted for every person on Earth back in the '60s - arrives for Sigalet today.

"Being called up in itself was such a special moment,'' says the Flames' goaltending coach. "As a kid, growing up, that's everybody's dream, isn't it? To make it to the NHL.

"So just to be backing up, you're living that childhood dream. Then in any game, with a minute left, you never expect to be going in. It's rare for anything to happen that late, an injury or what have you.

"Anyway, we're in the last minute (the Boston Bruins ahead 6-3), I look up from my seat on the bench and (Andrew) Raycroft's hunched over."

Suffering from a high-ankle sprain, the B's starting goaltender that night of Jan. 7, 2006 against the Tampa Bay Lightning exited the ice without so much as a peep, making a beeline for the home dressing room at TD Banknorth Garden.

The JumboTron scoreclock time: 19:17 of the third period.

"The next thing I know, they're handing me my helmet and my gloves. You're freezing cold. Your heart starts to race a little bit.

"You don't know how long they're going to keep you up, or if you'll ever get the chance to play again. This is what you've waited for what seems your whole life.

"Unfortunately for me, that's the only minute I played in the NHL."

Sigalet's top-flight career numbers: 1GP, 0 shots faced, 0 goals against. He'd stick around to back-up, wearing No. 57 for the Bruins, a few more games before being shipped back to Rhode Island.

But in living those 47 seconds, he was already beating the odds.

Only three years earlier, remember, having been drafted in the seventh round by the Bruins and at the time playing for the CCHA Bowling Green Falcons, Sigalet was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system.

"When the doctor first told me,'' he says now, "I didn't believe it. MS? I hadn't a clue what he was talking about. I'm 24. In the prime of life. Drafted. Looking forward to great things.

"So I got opinion after opinion after opinion. It was like being diagnosed 10 times in a row. 

"Once I finally did accept it, I always had a positive attitude. So my thing was: This is what I have, this is how I manage it. I'm going to turn a negative into a positive.

"I started to use my hockey to raise awareness and money for the disease. My end goal has been the next time someone's diagnosed they're not going to be sitting there, wondering what MS is, like I did; they're going to know what it is and they're going to have a positive outlook and hopefully even further down the road there's a cure or at least better medication from the fund-raising and awareness.

"The people telling me I was finished with hockey, they lit a fire under me. Someone tells me 'No', I'm sure going to try and find a way.

"I'm a stubborn person in that regard."

Provided much-needed support by his family and then-girlfriend, now-wife Lindsay, Sigalet returned to school - to the Falcons - and was named team captain, earned a Hobey Baker finalist nod and found himself nominated for the Best Comeback Athlete ESPY Award. 

Graduated to the pros, he started off in AHL Providence before receiving the brief call-up to the big Bruins.

Then, on Nov. 16, 2007, three years after the initial diagnosis of MS, during a Providence home game Sigalet crumpled to the ice.

"I got overheated, over-exerted and triggered some old symptoms that caused my legs to give way,'' he explains now. "I collapsed and knocked myself out.

"My brother (Jonathan) had been drafted by Boston, too, and was on the team at that time. It shook him. He was there when I was first diagnosed, too, and that might've been harder on him because I was the guy he looked up to, his older brother.

"After the collapse, I wondered if I'd be able to come back. I was in rehab for a month, had to learn to walk again, use my legs because I had no feeling from the waist down.

"I wound up coming back and finishing that season, too. Just goes to show. The support I got from the Bruins organization in my time there, to give me the opportunity despite being diagnosed with MS and the support I received from them to get back on the ice … they were in my corner the whole way."

Retiring in 2009 after short spell playing in Vienna, Sigalet found a way back into the game by assisting the WHL Everett Silvertips' puck-repellers.

Joining the Flames as a minor-league netminding consultant in AHL Abbotsford for two years after that junior prep period, he's now in his fourth season as goaltending guru for the big club, helping cultivate newcomer David Rittich and fine-tune old hand Mike Smith.

"I just love coming to the rink every day,'' he says. "Working with the goalies, trying to help them be as successful as possible, is so rewarding.

"Sounds cliche, I know, but I wasn't the most talented goalie ever. I worked my tail off, and I never wanted to lose to the guy at the other end of the ice, never wanted to get beat out by my goalie partner. It's no different in coaching - you're always trying to find ways to be better."

And to be there, to listen, to dialogue, whenever someone afflicted with MS needs a sounding board.

"When I was diagnosed, I didn't know anyone my age going through the same thing. So I kept the diagnosis to myself for about six months. I worried what Boston might think. Would they just throw me under the rug?

"That was probably the worst thing I did: Keeping quiet. Reaching out, networking with people in similar circumstances, makes a big difference in your life."

On this, the 12th anniversary of his lone NHL appearance, Sigalet remains grateful for those 43 seconds. On the surface, in the grand scheme of things, they may not seem like much …

"You always,'' he acknowledges, "hope for more. You always hope that first chance, that first appearance, will be a building block, lead to something else, something bigger.

"Everyone wants to play 10 years, 12 years in the NHL. But that opportunity just never happened for me.

"That one game meant more, too, considering my past with my health, my diagnosis with MS, people telling you you're never going to play again, let alone at the highest level there is.

"I got to do what I'd always dreamed of, what so many kids still dream of: I got the chance to play in an NHL game.

"So those 43 seconds … no one ever can take them away from me."

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