...He just wants to win.
Patrick Kaleta plays a role on this team. If he did not posess the specific talent of laying thundering body checks on opponents, he would not be in the NHL. Throughout the past few seasons, Kaleta has earned his paycheck by laying out huge hits and taking retaliation in order to get his team on the power-play. He played his role well, however, as a hockey fan who has respect for the unwritten rules of the game, I was dissatisfied with #36.
There is a well-known code in the NHL that insists that each man be responsible for his actions. This means dropping the gloves to fight if an opponent thinks you've gone over the line or made a dirty hit. Kaleta has handed out his fair share of big hits. Despite opinions to the contrary, the majority of these hits are legal. He often ilicits a retaliation, leaving his team with valuable a power-play. Kaleta has been honing his craft for years and as a result, rarely gets penalized on his initial hit, which is sometimes incredibly violent.
After the Kaleta freight train comes through, opposing players are often looking to fight #36. And he usually has not obliged. This has built up an anti-Kaleta sentiment among NHL teams. Kaleta isn't playing by "the code". In defense of Kaleta, there has been some grumbling by retired league veterans that current players are being too sensitive to hits and that issuing a challenge should be reserved for hits that are illegal or dirty.
Even with the fact that his hits are 'clean' I would like to see Kaleta answer the challenge more often than he has. As a result of this, at mid-season, I thought he was an embarrassment as a hockey player.
...And then Kaleta scored 10 goals and 5 assists while playing on the 4th line. And then he dropped the gloves with Steve Ott (Video below). Everyone knows Steve Ott is tough. Kaleta earned my respect by taking on The Dallas Stars tough guy.
Kaleta has never run from his reputation. He is well aware of being one of the most hated men in hockey. His continued employment actually Depends on being hated. What if everyone loved Sean Avery or Claude Lemieux (for us older folks)? Their strategic game of frustrating opponents wouldn't be quite as effective, would it? This season, the Buffalo native kept improving his offensive game, kept hitting, and threw in 4 regular season fights.
In an article recently published in the Boston Herald, in response to players downplaying Kaleta's effectiveness in wreaking havoc on opponents , Kaleta stated: “I’m not really worried about what they’re saying,”. “I’m going to do the same exact thing that I’ve been doing the whole year and the past couple of years. People can say whatever. I’m going to go out and play my game and do what’s best for my team.”
In Game 1, Kaleta was seen with blood on his face, a result of having his head driven into the boards by Bruin's Steve Begin. That shows fans visually, just how much he's willing to give to ensure a Sabres victory.
For this fan, Kaleta, scoring 10 goals and occasionally dropping the mits has caused me to change tune on the 23 year old. He's added dimensions to his game, and shown himself to be unselfish. I'm now ok with him skating away from fights to ensure a Buffalo power-play. Part of this change in opinion is my own realization that he's committing these seemingly cowardly actions to help his team. He has sacrificed his reputation, and now his Blood, for the Buffalo Sabres. In my eyes he's gone from embarrassment to a guy that I want on my team for the long haul... Kind of like another #36 we had a few years back, Matthew Barnaby.