Maybe no one would like to forget last season more than Patrick Kaleta.
The 28-year-old right wing started the season in Buffalo and played five games before the NHL punished him for an illegal check to the head with a 10-game suspension on Oct. 15. By the time he was ready to return, things got worse. After six seasons in Buffalo, he received news that he’d been waived and was then sent down to the American Hockey League to play with the Rochester Americans.
I think I’ve learned a lot more about myself than I’ve learned about my game. I think that’s going to be a big benefit for me in the future. - Patrick Kaleta
Then, as new management and new coach Ted Nolan were making plans to call him back up to the NHL, Kaleta sustained a knee injury on Nov. 29, ending his season.
“It was horrible. I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Kaleta said. “It was probably the worst year of my professional career with everything that happened and then my injury.”
He’s been doing rehab in Buffalo ever since – sometimes he’s been going too hard as he said he’s been yelled at a few times for being on the ice too long – and team doctors cleared him to practice on Thursday.
Kaleta credited the training, medical and coaching staffs for helping him in his recovery. He’s been at First Niagara Center most days in the summer, getting his strength and conditioning back up to where they need to be.
The Buffalo Sabres play their first preseason game of the season on Sunday at 5 p.m. in Washington against the Capitals and while he’s not quite 100 percent yet, Kaleta said he’s available to play if called upon.
With all that went on, Kaleta has learned a lot about himself both on and off the ice in the past year.
“You reflect about things you’ve done in the past, but you also have to move on,” he said. “I think I’ve learned a lot more about myself than I’ve learned about my game. I think that’s going to be a big benefit for me in the future.”
He’s also had talks with coach Ted Nolan about the style he’s going to have to play moving forward so that he can stay off the suspension list and continue to help the team on the ice. He’s been fined and/or suspended four times in the past six seasons so the League disciplinarians will likely be watching him closely.
“I love aggressive players as anyone does in the League but there’s a point of being too aggressive and hitting people in a vulnerable position,” Nolan said. “Patty, if he had to rewind it, there are probably some things he probably would’ve held off a little bit. We had a long time to talk and discuss those things.”
He’s been skating in camp on a line with Cody McCormick and Nicolas Deslauriers.
Nolan said Kaleta have to be mindful about how close he teeters toward the edge.
“We don’t want to take away what he does best. And that’s being aggressive and being first on the forecheck and being an antagonizer for the other team,” he said. “There’s that line you don’t want to cross. We talked about that line for quite some time and he had a lot of time to think about it too.”
Kaleta has admitted that he may have to tweak his style a bit, but playing hard will always be in the forefront of his mind. He’s also mindful of what the Sabres will expect out of him as he battles for a roster spot.
“No matter what I’m still going to dive in front of pucks if I need to. I’m still going to play the body. I’m still going to do whatever I can do to help this team in a positive way,” he said. “That one part where it gets away from me, I’ve just got to settle down a little bit and make the right play.”