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Sabres check out the local kid Kaleta doesn't hold back in first training camp

For most 19-year-olds, spending their first professional training camp with the hockey team they grew up adoring would be enough. Not Patrick Kaleta. The Angola native doesn't just want to share a Buffalo Sabres sweater with Jay McKee, Rory Fitzpatrick and Brian Campbell.

He wants to hit them as well.

Kaleta is the unofficial leader in body checks thrown through the first two days of training camp. He hit Chris Taylor, Jiri Novotny, Branislav Fabry, Campbell and McKee on Wednesday, a day after memorably making acquaintances with Fitzpatrick, among others.

"He was noticed," coach Lindy Ruff said. "He ran over a few bodies. He knocked Fitzpatrick down a couple times."

Kaleta isn't kidding himself, though. He knows he's not ready to be a full-time Sabre. But he sure is having fun being one this week.

He skated with several Sabres this summer, taking notes along the way. The best advice came from Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere.

"He said, 'Go in and battle hard because you'll get respected more if you play hard than if you don't,' " Kaleta recalled Wednesday.

It's not that Kaleta doesn't admire the other players. He can still be caught wandering the HSBC Arena hallways with wide-eyed wonderment that he's here.

But the thing is, if Kaleta wants to be a regular in the dressing room in a few years, he's got to do what he does best. Unfortunately for the other guys, what Kaleta does best is hit.

"That's my attribute that sticks out the most," said the 5-foot-11, 195-pound right wing, "so I've just got to bring everything else along with it. I've got some work to do on my speed and my stickhandling and stuff, so I've got to get it all rolled into one.

"(The goal is) just to come in and make an impression, see where I am compared to everyone else. Knowing what I have to work on and seeing some guys do certain things, you kind of learn from watching. So it's a big help for me, and I think this camp will help me a lot in Peterborough."

Kaleta has another season of eligibility in junior hockey, and in a week he'll start his fourth year with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League. He's been a hitter from Day One, but he's steadily improved his offensive production. In 62 games last season, he had 24 goals and 28 assists to go along with his 146 penalty minutes.

"He seems like a solid, well put-together kid," said Sabres center Chris Drury, Kaleta's occasional linemate. "He kept his nose right in there and wasn't shying away. If he keeps getting better every practice, he's going to be a pretty good player."

Kaleta isn't the only one enjoying himself. Playing for the local team has the obvious perk of a personal cheering section. His father, Tom, was at the arena along with a few family friends and one of Kaleta's former coaches at St. Francis High School.

"It's a good feeling to have, being in your hometown," said Kaleta, a sixth-round draft pick in 2004. "We took a couple of guys to the mall. I was showing them where to go and stuff, so it's pretty cool that way. It's pretty good just to be in Buffalo, born and raised here and always watching the Sabres."

It did take some getting used to, though.

"I was shaking in my boots a little bit seeing the Sabre emblem on the front of your sweater there. It gives you a little nervousness," Kaleta said. "But after you go out there you kind of forget about that, and you learn just to go out there and play your game and play hockey."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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