Injuries and hockey go hand in hand. In a sport where fans crave the big hit and a gloves-off, sweater-pulled-over-the-head brawl, getting banged up becomes a natural part of playing. No one knows this better than Michigan alternate captain Brandon Kaleniecki, whose physical style of play has resulted in various injuries throughout his career.
“There’s been a lot of experiences with injuries in hockey, at least for me,” Kaleniecki said. “I’ve had my fair share.”
But this season has by far been the worst for Kaleniecki – if only because of the timing. He sat out the third period in last Saturday night’s loss to Alaska-Fairbanks, and he won’t take the ice this Friday when the Wolverines face the U.S. NTDP Under-18 squad in an exhibition game. As one of five seniors on the team, Kaleniecki sees the end of his Michigan hockey career nearing, and the last thing he wants to do is watch his final games from the bench.
“It’s very frustrating,” Kaleniecki said. “This is the last run for me, and to not be able to play every game is frustrating.”
Lately, the Wolverines have been going through a rocky stretch and they can’t afford to lose any of their leaders for a substantial period of time. Knowing this has fueled his drive to get back on the ice as quickly as possible.
“We’re struggling, and things haven’t gone our way,” Kaleniecki said. “We’re still a good team. We just need to get things straightened out. We’re trying to do that right now, and to not be able to help out as much as I want to, that’s the worst part.”
To his credit, Kaleniecki has not sat around and sulked while he’s been missing practices and games. Instead, he’s been finding different ways to make an impact from the bench.
“I try to be supportive,” Kaleniecki said. “The most important thing is when you aren’t playing, you are supportive of the guys who are playing.”
Besides giving his moral support, Kaleniecki has also taken on the role of player-coach. Kaleniecki gets a different view of the game from the stands, and if he notices anything that he thinks can help the team, he isn’t hesitant to speak up.
“You see a couple little different things (from the stands) that they might not notice on the ice,” Kaleniecki said. “It can be very helpful to hear things from another player rather than from a coach.”
The support is a two-way street. While Kaleniecki tries to help the team despite his injuries, his teammates try to help him recover so that he can get back to helping them on the ice.
“The guys around you appreciate the effort you’re putting in,” Kaleniecki said. “They help you get through (the injuries). I think your teammates are the most important part of it.”
If there is any benefit to getting injured, it’s that Kaleniecki learned how to play through pain.
“Once you take that first hit, you realize it’s not that bad,” Kaleniecki said. “That’s the way I like to approach it. Just go out there, give it a run and see how bad (the injury) is really going to hurt.”
That’s good news for Michigan, which currently sits six points behind of Miami (Ohio) for first place in the CCHA. The Wolverines will need their senior alternate-captain to be on the ice as much as possible if they are to compete for the conference title in the second half of the season.