“To a certain extent I take a little pride that people don’t like playing against you and that’s part of my job so I’ll go with it.”
That’s a quote from Pat Kaleta from WGR550 am radio this morning, talking about what it means to be on The Hockey News’ “10 Most Hated NHL Players.” Sharing his thoughts with Howard Simon and Jeremy White, he conceded that he must change his game in order to remain as a feared, but more reliable, weapon on the ice.
Buffalo74 touched yesterday upon his reckless style that lead to a benching, a suspension, and a fine:
“Again, big hits are important. Acknowledged.
It’s just that the stupid hits are more important, because those are the ones that get you in the penalty box – those are the ones that leave NHLers brains’ scarred with lesions and disease.
Lindy Ruff has seen enough. He has benched Kaleta over his reckless play this season. Let’s hope that the benching gave Kaleta the chance he needed to review his style of hard hitting.
Keep it clean, Pat.”
I provided plenty of links to examples of Pat’s play that had landed him in the dog houses of his coach and of his peers. Not all of you agreed with the assessment, and that is fair enough. But Pat knows he needs to change his style, and so does Ruff. From today’s Buffalo News:
“Every team has guys everybody hates. It’s the level of hate,” Ruff said. “Pat is a hard hitter. He’s one of those guys that fits that category of ‘you have to keep your head up when you’re on the ice against him.’ … His hatred comes from the type of hits he imposes. He’s had devastating hits in the past that have done a lot of damage.”
The trick for Kaleta is to keep delivering devastating hits, but without said damage. And it’s not an easy task. Again, from his WGR appearance:
“It’s a real fine line playing on that edge but it means being a little bit smarter and being a player…I’m never going to lose that grittiness and my hits are going to be there.”
“I go hard. Hitting has gotten me into the league and that’s (where) my knack was and it still is. I have to work hard from this point on through the summer and next year changing my game, and being a player that is on that line of being hated, and going out there and playing the game – and maybe not that I’m worried about other players and what others think – but maybe I’ll be more of a respected player.”
It doesn’t sound like he’s exactly gotten a handle on it yet – on how to stay on the clean side of that fine line – but he is working towards it, and that is a good thing. Again, from the WGR interview:
“I’ve thrown say 500 hits and 5 of them have been maybe over the line which is going to happen because people are human and make mistakes. By no means do I want to be player hitting with my elbow out or intentionally trying to hurt somebody.”
“When I hit, I find it more of an art form and I take pride in my hits. I don’t want to be known as a player who is going out there and targeting the person’s head.”
Kaleta is truly an artist of the open ice hit, but those 5 hits could end 5 careers. He will always be gung-ho about that part of his game – like he said, hitting is what got him to this level. Maybe, then, it will be the simple discovery of when and how he becomes overenthusiastic on the ice, that will keep him from crossing the line.
If his style of play tells us anything, it is that he is going to give this effort every resource of his mind and body.
Here’s to hoping that he will emerge from this with his trademark verve but with a further mastery of technique. If he is successful, he will be just as feared as ever – and his new body of work will make it very, very hard to find reasonable cause to put him on this kind of list again.