Patrick Kaleta leads a double life.
On the ice, the Buffalo Sabres bruising forward is known for his bone-crushing hits, trash talking prowess and ability to bait opponents into unnecessary penalties.
Away from the rink is a different story.
In his spare time, Kaleta can be found in his western New York home participating in a hobby that may not seem fitting of a rough and tumble hockey player. Kaleta happens to love Legos. That’s right, Legos, those colorful plastic toy bricks that have entertained young kids and budding architects for more than 70 years.
Kaleta’s love of Legos dates back to this past season when a broken hand kept him off the ice and looking to kill time during the healing process.
“I was sitting at home, basically fed up watching TV,” recalls the 25 year-old Kaleta. “I remember reading an article in the newspaper about [soccer star] David Beckham and how he would put together Lego sets for relaxation.
“I thought if it was good enough for one of the world’s greatest soccer players, it should be good enough for me. So I decided to go out and give it a try. The next thing I knew I had a Lego room.”
Which may seem strange for a player better known for body checks than building blocks.
“It was a bit tough in the beginning working with the Legos, but they seemed to get easier and easier,” says the Sabres sparkplug. “I used to play with Legos when I was a kid. But I guess I looked at it a little differently as an adult.”
Eventually, Kaleta discovered that he had the patience not only to create difficult projects, but the discipline to keep them together once they were completed. The biggest challenge, at that point, was finding a place to display his works of plastic art.
“The only thing that I didn’t really plan on was the collection getting as big as it has,” he says. “I originally had it in a room in the upstairs part of my house. But that began filling up and I really began getting nervous.”
Of all his Lego creations, which one presented Kaleta with his biggest challenge?
“Probably the Taj Mahal,” Kaleta said of the 5,922-piece replica of the India landmark that stands 16 inches tall by 20 inches wide when completed.
“I think it took some time, between six to eight hours, because I split it up over a two-day period.”
Other prized pieces of his collection include a carousel that spins and plays music, several “Star War” spaceships and an entire village that includes of a corner store, pet store and a firehouse.
And as long as the Danish company keeps cranking out new kits, Kaleta says he will keep hitting up local toy and hobby stores in search of new challenges.
“That’s why I go on my weekly Toys ‘R’ Us run and the workers know who I am. They let me know if there is anything new coming out,” he says.
“It’s a hobby that I’ve picked up, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon.”
While the Legos remain a welcome reprieve from the pressures of the NHL, it’s Kaleta’s work with his foundation – HITS, or Helping Individuals To Smile – that is his true passion.
Kaleta’s charitable work goes back to his days with the Rochester Americans, where he was named AHL Man of the Year during the 2006-07 season for his community service.
“When I was younger, I always wanted to do things for the community,” Kaleta admits. “I knew that I would have to establish myself as a player first before setting up any type of foundation.”
Fortunately, Kaleta didn’t have to go far to find someone whose philanthropy would serve as an example for his own charitable efforts. Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller has earned a reputation in both the Buffalo community and around the NHL for his willingness to help others. His Steadfast Foundation has been helping sick children and their families in the community since 2006.
“He explained to me how important it was to become involved with the community,” says Kaleta, who first cracked the Sabres lineup in 2006-07.
In addition to supporting the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Kaleta serves as a spokesperson for Cradle Beach Camp, which helps disabled and disadvantaged children from the western New York area.
“We just want to be able to help kids who are less fortunate,” he says. “We want them to have a better life and put a smile on their face.”
Kaleta has also set a lofty goal for his HITS Foundation: the construction of a $6 million ice arena and field house in the Springfield, N.Y., area, close to where he grew up.
“I know it is quite a big goal to set, but we’re going to keep going with this challenge until the day comes that we open the doors to this complex,” he vows. “I want to see all kids get the chance to play hockey and any sport like I did.
“The sooner we can get this open the better.”
Just like his next Lego project, Kaleta’s goal is to build a better community, one brick at a time.