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by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres

ST. PAUL – The wait is finally over for Patrick Kaleta as he suits up for his first regular-season NHL game in over a year.

The Angola, N.Y. native has had a tough year. He was waived by the team in October 2013 after serving an eight-game suspension. Then in the minors, he tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. He recovered from that and fought for a roster spot during training camp.

But in September, he was hit in the face with a slap shot in a preseason game and needed to have major surgery to repair the damage. He said there were times when he thought he might never play for the Buffalo Sabres again, but now, he’s ready to go and will dress in Buffalo’s game against the Minnesota Wild at 8 p.m. EST on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.

“It’s hard to put into words. It was really hard for me. I’ve been through a lot mentally and physically,” he said after the team’s optional morning skate. “You guys have no idea how much this means to me to come back in here and suit up and get ready for a game and suit up for the Buffalo Sabres.

I’ve had a lot of help with my family and my fiancée and friends. I owe them a big thanks as well as the people with the Buffalo Sabres organization.”

The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 7:30 p.m. EST on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on News Radio 930 WBEN.

With a reputation for being a high-energy player, Kaleta will try to bring some of that in his first game since Oct. 10, 2013.

“This means the world to me to participate in a game. I can’t work miracles, obviously, but I’m going to go out there and give and honest effort and hopefully create some energy,” he said. “I’m just really happy to go out there and go out there and be able to play with my teammates.”

The team is hoping they can build on their game in St. Louis on Tuesday, which was close until the very end. There was also an incident where Tyler Ennis took a late hit. His teammates stood up to the Blues and defended him all night. Sabres coach Ted Nolan hopes that having Kaleta back will help in that regard as well.

“Excitement is contagious,” he said. “You look at the other night when Ennis started getting involved, everybody else started getting involved. Those types of things are what we’re lacking.”

Marcus Foligno will come out of the lineup. Nolan said it has do with both his performance and his health. He missed four games with a shoulder injury and made his return to the lineup Tuesday. He played 10:25 and was a minus-2.

“Maybe we pushed him a little too quickly,” Nolan said. “He only had one or two practices with the team and his conditioning’s a little bit off. When your conditioning’s off and you’re a big man, when you’re slow you look a little slower.”

Nolan said they’ll work on his conditioning and get him back in for a game soon.

Alternate captain Josh Gorges will not play due to a lower-body injury he sustained Tuesday night. Andre Benoit will take his place in the lineup.

“I want to make sure I’m reliable defensively. That’s a big part of it and from there I can bring what I do offensively and try to contribute that way,” Benoit said. “But making a good first pass and being reliable in my own zone is what I need to focus on.”

Wild defensemen Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella will miss the game due to illness. Coach Mike Yeo described it as gland swelling similar to what Keith Ballard and Christian Folin dealt with earlier in the season.

In Anaheim, Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin were diagnosed with the mumps and have been instructed to stay away from the team.

Nolan said you can never be too careful when it comes to illnesses like this

“We’re always concerned and the National Hockey League has been really good on informing us and our medical team is informing us about what to be aware of,” he said. “You can’t be totally, 100 percent protected, but washing the hands and so forth. We’ve been on top of it and it doesn’t hurt to get double-checked for sure.”


26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 12 Brian Gionta
80 Chris Stewart – 19 Cody Hodgson – 21 Drew Stafford
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 8 Cody McCormick – 36 Patrick Kaleta

61 Andre Benoit – 57 Tyler Myers
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 24 Tyson Strachan

1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: 41 Andrej Meszaros, 82 Marcus Foligno
Injured: 4 Josh Gorges (lower body)
Injured Reserve: 31 Matt Hackett (knee)

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