Early in the second period of Patrick Kaleta’s fourth American League game, Hamilton Bulldogs rookie Stefan Fournier looked to be itching for a fight. With the game knotted at a goal apiece, Kaleta chose not to drop the gloves; instead, he backed off and moments later set up a nice scoring chance for his current squad, the Rochester Americans. When Fournier went after defenseman Drew Bagnall, Kaleta politely tugged on the youngster’s jersey, as if to say, “not now.”
At the end of the frame, Louis Leblanc put him in a headlock for a few seconds, but Kaleta would not be goaded into a penalty.
“I don’t need to be doing that stuff,” Kaleta said. “It’s funny that guys are chirping me in warmups, because it’s actually the opposite; I know I’m in their heads and it’s working to my benefit.”
On a day when the Buffalo Sabres organization announced the dismissals of GM Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston, the player they sent down to the minors after one incident too many was just trying to put points on the board. And that’s exactly what the Sabres told Rochester’s brass when they sent the agitator down after his 10-game suspension for a head shot on Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson.
“It was basically, get him back to playing hockey,” said Americans coach Chadd Cassidy. “He’s probably not going to be a high-end offensive player at the NHL level, but he needs to make more plays if he wants to play in the league now, especially with the message the league sent him with the suspension.”
Kaleta has been watching a lot of video since his demotion and one of the players he has been studying is reformed bad boy Matt Cooke, who currently sits seventh among Minnesota Wild scorers with nine points and – more importantly – only 10 PIM through 18 games. Other NHLers on his video lineup include San Jose’s Tyler Kennedy and Ryan Kesler of Vancouver. Neither of those two had to escape being typecast as a goon, but they do play on both sides of the puck. With Rochester, Kaleta has been a key member of the penalty kill, which he also contributed to a great deal in Buffalo.
“I’m a hard worker,” Kaleta said. “I take pride in my PK and my skating is strong. I gotta keep working on my offensive abilities whether I’m here or in the NHL.”
Those abilities are still in need of refinement, even at the AHL level. Kaleta’s passes in a 3-1 win over Hamilton missed the mark on several occasions, but at least he’s trying. It would be easy to throw down with an opponent, but that’s not going to get him back to the NHL.
Kaleta last played for the Amerks at the beginning of his pro career in 2007-08 and doesn’t seem fazed by the fact he’s back riding buses instead of Air Pegula out of Buffalo.
“When you come into a close-knit team like we have here in Rochester, it makes it a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m here to do work and I’ve got some studying to do on the bus.”
It’s easy to say that a leopard can’t change its spots and even Cooke is only an angel until his next attack, but at least Kaleta is making the best of a tough situation. And he hasn’t even taken a minor penalty yet.