Legos by day, body-checks by night
What did you do this summer? I doubt it was nearly as interesting as Buffalo Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta. In addition to working on a specific part of his hockey skill set, the Angola native stepped up his off-ice game as well.
Pat Kaleta built the Taj Mahal.
Sure, it was made out of Legos, one of the self-professed maniac’s many hobbies, but it’s just one of Kaleta’s many intriguing interests. The twenty-five-year-old agitator has been working diligently on his offensive game this summer, but it’s his work in the community that deserves the dulcet tones of an arena announcer. Kaleta’s HITS Foundation endeavors to “help individuals to smile” by aiding underprivileged children or those dealing with physical, mental, or financial difficulties to participate in sports. He’s also attempting to raise enough money to build a complex in Springville complete with a hockey rink and other fields.
“Growing up, I always saw guys like Rob Ray, particularly skating at the Nike Base when I was playing youth hockey and it made my day to see a Buffalo Sabre at the rink,” Kaleta recalls. “As I got older I learned in Peterborough and Rochester how important it is to get out in the community. If you can make one person's day, that's awesome.”
The experience has been remarkable for Kaleta, who was initially amazed at how “something as simple as a box of crayons” or something else people take for granted was “another person’s gold.” As time has gone on, the puzzle has come together for Kaleta like a Lego Statue of Liberty.
“Buffalo's a perfect example of a city that comes together and helps each other out,” he says, noting that when things happen to us—whether it’s Flight No. 3407 or the Extreme Makeover—“the community comes together and works together. That’s what Buffalo is about.”
Not too shabby of a mindset for a guy voted No. 2 on the Hockey News’ 2011 Most-Hated Players in the National Hockey League. The physical forward has no plans to tone down his game, a style that has raised the ire of many fellow NHL-ers. But he has been skating often in the offseason with center Paul Gaustad and winger Nathan Gerbe in an effort to refine an offensive game that saw him touch double-digit goals two seasons ago. “I haven’t worked harder on skills and puckhandling than I have this year. I’ve been on the ice probably four times a week for the past three and a half months,” Kaleta reveals. “I know I need to get better.”
Kaleta has registered 318 penalty minutes and 40 points in 204 career games since joining the Sabres as a 2004 sixth-round pick. The more alarming facts are the less than fifty games per season he’s played and his dangerous style. “My style of game and the way I play, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’ll give you everything I got every night,” he says. “I’ve got to try to stay healthy. You learn that over time. You can’t really worry about it; like I said, I play hard. I’m going to go until I can’t walk anymore.”
He’ll see some benefit in the awareness of other players who now know that No. 36 isn’t going to turtle in all fighting situations. Kaleta’s left fist played the role of piston in a fight last season with Columbus pest Derek Dorsett. “You choose when you’re going to fight and when is a good time,” Kaleta says. “I always knew I could and I had to bring it on my own terms. You learn from the older guys and the actual fighters in the league, but you’ve got to keep an even keel.”
Kaleta maintains stability with the help of his hobbies, which include Legos. The player says he has “a ton” of the toys, including a “grand carousel that spins and plays music,” the London Tower Bridge, and “a bunch of Star Wars ships.” He’s built a village that consists of a corner shop, firehall, and pet store. In addition, he collects McFarlane figurines and has a custom-made life-sized Philadelphia Eagles’ Michael Vick as well as an “awesome” Patrick Kaleta figurine built by the player’s cousin.
Perhaps that model will be worth more if Kaleta can capture the fifteen to twenty goals he sees as a reasonable, healthy season goal. Between the HITS Foundation, his off-ice hobbies, and his love of Buffalo food—he specifically mentions Edie’s Pizzeria in Hamburg—Kaleta has the world by the back of its jersey.
Nick Mendola tweets at twitter.com/nicholasmendola.