When the Sabres hit the ice on Thursday against the Ottawa Senators at HSBC Arena, Buffalo native, Patrick Kaleta
will become just the second person from Western New York to be drafted by the Sabres organization and make his NHL debut with the team.
Kaleta takes the spot of forward Daniel Paille, who suffered a broken finger in Tuesday night's 6-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Kaleta was recalled from Rochester where he was in his first year of professional hockey. In 41 games with the Americans, Kaleta had three goals and three assists, and led the team with 87 penalty minutes.
Forward Scott Thomas was the first Buffalo native to suit up with the team and had three goals and three assists in 39 games over two seasons with Buffalo (1992-94).
"They were my favorite team growing up, ever since I started following hockey," said Kaleta, who was the Sabres sixth-round selection (176th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. "It's always been a dream of mine to just be a part of this organization, and when they drafted me, I was thrilled. And now this is a pretty big accomplishment for myself."
"I think it's a heck of an opportunity for Pat and I'm happy for him," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. "I had a conversation with him at camp that I thought he would get a chance to play eventually. He's played real hard in Rochester, and I have heard nothing but good things."
It just goes to show how important drafting and bringing up your own prospects is, as Kaleta will become the fifth draft pick from the 2004 draft class to make their debut with the team this year. Andrej Sekera
, Drew Stafford
, Mike Funk, and Mike Card also have cracked the lineup for the team.
It's fitting that Kaleta gets the nod to help out the Sabres, as he fills a role the team may have been lacking over the past couple of weeks.
When Paul Gaustad suffered a season ending injury against Ottawa on February 7, the roster lost some grit. Though undersized at five-foot-eleven, 195 pounds, Kaleta can pack a wallop.
"He more than enjoys it, he actually goes looking for it" said Ruff about Kaleta's hit-anything-that-moves mentality. " I actually went to him in training camp and told him to ease off a little bit because I didn't want any more players hurt. That’s a true story.
He looks to hit hard and he looks to hurt people. He's the type of kid that knows he's got a little niche and he's carved it out and he lives off that "
"Sometimes you have to do a little bit of dirty work," said Kaleta regarding his hitting his own teammates back in training camp. "And guys might not like you right off the bat but hopefully as time rolls around, you'll become better friends with them. Hopefully one of these days, I can stick up for the guys that I'm hitting in training camp."
Even though he didn't seem like he was awestruck to play with his hometown team in training camp, the opportunity to help them win games when it counts is a little bit surreal.
"It's hard to take it all in at once," said Kaleta. "But you have to come in here and act like you're part of the team. You can't come in with star-struck eyes, but just go to work."
The coaching staff shouldn't have to be worried about Kaleta's effort on the ice. Kaleta was recognized as the best body-checker and one of the OHL's hardest working players in the league's annual Coaches Poll, while playing for Peterborough during the 2005-06 season.
Now playing at home again, the biggest problem for Kaleta comes off the ice, not on. Finding tickets for all of those that want to attend his debut is going to be a huge task.
"I'm going to try and get my hands on as many as I can but I'd probably say family and friends wise, I'll need maybe 50-100 tickets," said Kaleta. "I have to see what I can do. I have to put my work boots on after I get my equipment off."
When he finally takes to the ice on Thursday, Kaleta's hard work and dedication will then be up on a pedestal for others to see.
"Talking with my friends and the people I know around Western New York that play hockey, they are so pumped up and ready for the game tomorrow," said Kaleta. "Hopefully I can open up doors for other players from Western New York to be inspired and have a dream to play."