CALGARY, AB -- The 2013-14 campaign looked like it was going to be a banner season for defenceman Patrick Sieloff.
The blueliner had persevered through a rough first season in the OHL, which saw him limited to 45 games with a groin ailment, and had signed his first professional contract on July 19, 2013. He added on 15-pounds of muscle during the off-season to prepare for the Flames annual summer development camp, making him even more imposing to forwards trying to break into his zone.
After an impressive performance at camp and during the Young Stars Classic tournament in Penticton, the organization decided he was ready to turn pro rather than return to the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires. He was assigned to the Abbotsford Heat to start the year but understood he had a chance to play in his first NHL game this season, so long as he proved himself in the American Hockey League.
He was also slated to play a big role for the United States at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Sweden, as the Flames had stated they would release him for the duration of the tournament.
Then, disaster struck.
In October, with just two games under his belt, the Ann Arbor, MI product came down with what appeared to be a fever. He didn't think much of it when his symptoms first popped up, believing it was just a bug that was going around. But that was the start of what would be over two months of hell.
He saw a doctor shortly after falling ill and the 19-year-old was diagnosed with a staph infection, stemming from an in-grown hair on his stomach. Staphylococcal infections range in severity, going from extremely mild to life-threatening, and while Sieloff had suffered from a similar infection before, his previous reaction was far milder than that he endured this year.
He was immobile for a month and wasn't allowed to break a sweat for eight weeks. To put that in perspective, one would be trepidatious to go for a short walk around the house because there is a possibility of a bead of sweat trickling down your back, your forehead, or your stomach. He was also hooked up to a portable intravenous, which had to be changed every 24 hours.
For any athlete, that would be extraordinarily arduous, but for someone like Sieloff, it could be described as tortuous. The rearguard seems to be constantly in motion, even while partaking in a casual conversation; he is brimming with energy, shifting on his feet and frequently using hand gestures to drive home a point.
"This guy, to slow down or stop, it’s not part of his vocabulary," was how Flames head coach Bob Hartley described Sieloff.
To make matters worse, he was hospitalized for a stint after suffering an allergic reaction to medication he was taking.
"It was pretty rough," Sieloff said of the ordeal. "It's great to be back at it now."
The experience was eye-opening for rearguard in a number of ways and being withheld from physical activity for such a lengthy period of time has broadened his sense of gratitude.
"As an athlete, not sweating for that period of time, it's frustrating. But you do learn a lot. Not even on the hockey side of it but the life side of it. Not that I took it for granted but being fortunate to play and get back to doing things, I'm very lucky."
Sieloff has returned to Calgary, working with team staff to get his fitness level back to where it needs to be. Being held back from physical activity during his recovery has basically put him at square one and before he can even hit the ice, he needs to work on the basics. For the past few weeks he has been spending a lot of time working on hip mobility and has ramped up his cardio workouts.
"I haven't skated yet but I'm kind of taking that week-to-week," he said. "I've been getting better. I feel better since I first got here. Things have went away, pain-wise."
"It's better than I expected."
There is no timeline on Sieloff's return to game action, but there is still a window of opportunity for him to jump back into the Abbotsford Heat's lineup at some point this season.
That, according the Heat head coach Troy G. Ward, would be a huge coup for the squad.
"It was a key loss for us," Ward told CalgaryFlames.com. "It was a big loss because of his maturity level for a young man, relative how he plays in terms of heart and consistency, and in how he prepares. He's probably, as a young player in the organization, one of our more diligent mental and physical preparation guys. I thought he would always send a message to a lot of young kids a lot what it takes to prepare and play consistently."
"[To get him back], it would be an immense thing. Obviously he would be behind, but his ability to get the other team a little bit on edge with the unpredictability and his hard play would be really good thing for our team. And just in his personality and his day-to-day demeanour of how he goes about his business and his energy for life. He's got a lot of energy and he's a good pro already."
For now, Sieloff is happy to soak up everything he can from everyday NHLers at the Scotiabank Saddledome whilst he is training. He isn't wasting this opportunity, learning every day about what it takes to be a pro in the best league in the world.
"Being around them, whether you're at the games or practices, there are teaching points - things you don't see when you're playing but things you see when you're off the ice. It's good. I get to watch video and take it all it.
"I'm just really happy and fortunate to be able to get back at it now."