has all the qualities you look for in a goalie. He’s quick and determined and the kid’s got miles of mental toughness.
And he’s got multiple sclerosis, too.
Sigalet was recalled by the Boston Bruins Tuesday to fill in for the injured Manny Fernandez. He was 1-0 this season with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, posting a 6-3 win over the Philadelphia Phantoms on Oct. 20.
That he’s playing professional hockey at all is an accomplishment in itself after doctors told him his playing days were likely over when he was diagnosed with the disease four years ago.
“Doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to play hockey because there’s so much exertion out there on the ice and it’s such a vigorous schedule, but that’s kind of what’s fueled my fire here,” Sigalet told NHL.com. “Just hearing the words; ‘You might not be able to play again,’ -- that made me want to play that much more. They gave me a great opportunity in training camp here and just to be here, it’s pretty special.”
Sigalet was just in training camp with the Bruins, where he won another job with AHL Providence. Last season with the Baby Bruins, Sigalet, 26, went 15-5-2 in 25 appearances with a 2.39 GAA and .915 save percentage in his second full season in Providence.
Not bad for a kid they said would never play competitive hockey again.
Sigalet was Bowling State's top goalie in 2003, flashing his professional potential in a pair of games against Northern Michigan in which he made a total of 66 saves. But something wasn’t right that week in February. Sigalet wasn’t feeling well.
When he woke up the morning after that second game against Northern Michigan, his left leg was numb. Thinking the numbness may have had something to do with a puck that struck him in the game or any one of a thousand bumps and bruises hockey goalies battle on a nightly basis, Sigalet chalked up the loss of feeling to playing the night before. But when the numbness spread all the way up to his neck later in the day, he knew something was definitely wrong.
“I was just finished playing two games in college and I woke up with a numb foot,” he said. “Everyone wakes up with a numb foot or hand from the way they sleep sometimes, and the next morning I woke up and from the neck down, I just felt weak and numb and could hardly move. So I knew something was seriously wrong.”
Soon after, Sigalet was diagnosed with MS.
“The first thing (the doctor) said is; ‘Things don’t look good,’ and my first thought was cancer or a tumor or something like that,” Sigalet says. “He said MS and I had never heard of it. I didn’t know what it was going to do to me or what it does, so yeah, it was definitely a shock. I did as much research as I could.”
MS is a chronic condition that affects the central nervous system that causes a variety of symptoms such as muscle weakness, depression, and difficulties with coordination, visual problems and severe fatigue. Not only was his future as a goalie threatened, but Sigalet was also facing a dramatic life change as he was forced to learn to live with the degenerative disease. The brain is surrounded by a layer called myelin, which helps nerve fibers conduct electrical impulses. MS is the gradual breakdown of that myelin layer.
“I had the choice to pack it in or keep trying to play, and I knew right away I wanted to take on a positive attitude and try to beat it, try to maybe give hope to somebody out there that’s been diagnosed,” Sigalet said. “I had no idea what the disease was when I was diagnosed, so if I can use my hockey to promote some kind of awareness, I think it’s a great tool to use.”
It’s been four years since Sigalet’s life changed, and despite having MS, he’s right where he always wanted to be – he’s playing hockey for a living. To many, that’s an amazing accomplishment.
“The disease is so different with everybody that it was difficult for them to say what my future was,” Sigalet said. “They said there was a good chance you might not be able to play and you’re just going to have to take it day by day and see what happens. I mean, this has been my dream since I was eight-years-old, to play hockey and make a living and play professional, and just to hear them say you might not be able to do that, it’s made me focus that much harder and want it that much more.”
|Sigalet holds a 2.98 GAA and .915 save percentage in his AHL career.
Living with MS is not out of the ordinary. Sigalet has to pay close attention to his body, he has to eat right and he’s got to keep a constant monitor on his fatigue levels. But other than having a much keener understanding of his body now, there is little that separates Sigalet from the rest of his teammates.
“It’s mostly good days,” he says. “I might have the odd day where I’m a little more tired than someone else. I have to take three injections a week, so it’s a constant reminder that the disease is in there. But I’m feeling pretty good and pretty healthy, so there’s no complaints that way.”
The Bruins haven’t had any complaints either as Sigalet’s won 34 games in the AHL the last two seasons and holds a career 2.98 GAA and .915 save percentage. His younger brother Jonathan, a 6-foot-1, 21-year-old defenseman out of Bowling Green, is also in the Bruins’ system. The two bothers will probably both play in Providence again this season, something else Jordan probably never thought would happen the day they told him he had MS.
All the support he’s gotten from family, friends, teammates and even opponents (after his diagnosis, Sigalet received an autographed jersey from the University of Nebraska-Omaha) have also come as a surprise.
“At first, I thought a lot of it would be negative, but it’s been the complete opposite,” he said. “People have reached out through emails and letters. When I was first diagnosed, I kept it to myself for the first couple of months, so I didn’t really have a chance to talk to someone else that had MS. When I finally came out in public and told people this is what I have, now it gives me a chance to network with others who have the disease and you pick up little things here and there that help you through your day.”
Things are going well now for Sigalet, but hope and optimism were the last emotions he felt after he was informed of the disease. When he was initially diagnosed with MS, the young goalie was crushed. His first thought pattern was normal for most people when they’re told they have a disease, and Sigalet kept questioning why this was all happening to him.
“Definitely for the first while, you’re in denial and in the ‘why me?’ stage,” he says. “You learn pretty fast that’s not going to get you too far. You learn to take on that positive attitude and luckily I have a lot of positive people surrounding me and it rubbed off on me. Hopefully I can rub that off on others who have been diagnosed, because not everyone has positive people around you sometimes.”
The Bruins know they have one of those positive people, and they know exactly where to find him. He’s the one between the pipes. Right where doctors told Sigalet he’d never be again.