Playing for the team you cheered on as a kid is one great accomplishment, but Patrick Kaleta
learned Wednesday that serving as an alternate captain for that team can mean something much more.
Kaleta served as an alternate captain for the first time in his career Wednesday night in Buffalo’s 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was an experience he had trouble putting into words.
When Sabres coach Ted Nolan and defenseman Mike Weber presented him with a jersey with the alternate captain’s “A” on the front during a team meeting Wednesday morning, the Angola, N.Y. native admitted that he got pretty emotional.
Weber had been serving as an alternate captain with Josh Gorges out for the season with a lower-body injury, but Weber decided to pass the honor onto his long-time teammate.
“Webs said it was mine the rest of the way,” Kaleta said. “I’m just very proud and humbled by the ‘A’ and it means the world to me.”
He sustained a knee injury last November while with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League that he’s still in the process of rehabbing. In February, he had bone chips removed from it and he feels like his game has improved drastically since having that surgery.
He’s played four games since then. Against Toronto, he registered four hits in 8:16, including 2:38 on the penalty kill.
“Last night was probably the best I’ve felt the whole season,” he said. “You still have to manage it and be smart with it. That’s why I have therapy days like today and just being smart with your body, knowing your body and preparing yourself for the games to go out and do what I need to do.”
Nolan has always been a big proponent of team building and he thinks Weber’s gesture was a great sign of the team coming together, especially in a difficult season when positive results have been tough to come by.
“That’s one thing we try to instill – a group that cares for one another because a group that cares for one another usually plays well together moving forward,” Nolan said. “It was great to see. When you see one guy who really cares about another guy who is actually from this city, it was great to see.”
Kaleta has dealt with a slew of injuries in his career including, but not limited to the knee injury, a broken hand and broken bones in his face from a high slap shot. And through all that adversity, he’s found his way back to playing a regular shift in the NHL.
“I try to lead by example and even for something like my injuries, seeing how hard I had to work to get back and the perseverance of being sent down and trying to work by way back to playing in the NHL hopefully can inspire and help out the younger guys,” he said.
“I truly believe that it has. One of the best things about playing hockey and being on this team is having the respect of your teammates. I’d do anything for any of those guys and I think that’s one of the most important things in hockey – being able to have that bond with your teammates.”