BUFFALO – As a 30-year-old grinder still searching for a contract, Patrick Kaleta understands his 10-year career could already be over. The passionate former Sabres winger talks openly about the inevitable end and how he is prepared for his post-playing life.
“I’m lucky enough that I love hockey and I’ll die for the sport,” Kaleta said Wednesday after skating inside HarborCenter. “I’ll die playing the sport, especially for my team. That’s how much my team means to me. But I don’t have to have hockey. I don’t have to go to the rink every single day. I don’t have to do this.
“But my dedication is there. It’s kind of hard to explain. My life right now revolves around hockey but it doesn’t have to.”
Kaleta, a veteran of 348 NHL games, is happy. He and his wife, Ashley, are expecting their first child, which has given him a fresh perspective on life. Despite his uncertain playing future, he smiled and joked during a 10-minute conversation with the Times Herald.
The oft-injured Kaleta clearly wants to keep living his hockey life. Seventeen months removed from his last appearance with the Sabres, he believes he can still help one of the 30 NHL teams, perhaps as a 13th forward.
“If the NHL opportunity comes approaching, I’ll be ready,” he said. “If it doesn’t, I’ll be prepared for that, too.”
The Angola native recently left his longtime agent, Anton Thun, and signed with Newport Sports, one of the more prominent hockey agencies. The decision was emotional.
These days, Kaleta’s routine doesn’t differ much from previous summers. The Sabres allow him to use their facilities, so he works out most mornings at the First Niagara Center. He recently started skating with a group of players in preparation for the upcoming season.
“I’m healthy for the first time in, say, three years,” he said. “It’s kind of I’ve learned to deal with things. My job is coming to the rink. (I hope) I can help out the younger guys and push them and be a role model and make them realize that it’s fun to come in and work out in the summer rather than being at home.”
Kaleta said he has packed on 11 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame and his body fat is down to 9.6 percent.
“I’m bigger, stronger,” he said. “I’ve had personal records in squatting and bench press.”
Kaleta skated in a black NHLPA jersey or an inside-out Sabres jersey last year prior to signing an AHL contract. The agitator has been wearing a Sabres jersey again this week, although he said he hasn’t had any contract talks with the team.
He doesn’t seem keen on taking a role similar to last season, when injuries and veteran rules limited him to only 26 appearances with the Rochester Americans in his first full AHL campaign since 2006-07.
“I’m here, I’m helping out,” Kaleta said. “I’m ready to go if I’m called upon. I wear the jersey because this is my 13th summer working out here. Thirteen years, and I still get the same excitement when I throw on the Sabres practice jersey.”
Kaleta said he has “no idea” what the future holds.
“That’s the weird part about this whole thing,” he said. “I don’t really have any answers for this next month, next two months. (I) could be playing in the NHL or could be working a normal job like everyone else has to do. And either way, I’ll be prepared. I’ll be ready.”
He added: “My job right now is to stay focused on what I got to do, and if the opportunity comes up, then it does. And if not, then I go back to the drawing board and find other ways I can help people and help the organization.”