AHL Heat's Jordan Sigalet doesn't let MS define his life or will to give back to hockey
VANCOUVER — It was a Moonlight Graham moment, a minute that will last a lifetime for Jordan Sigalet.
Archie (Moonlight) Graham was a baseball player, made famous by W.P Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe and the film Field of Dreams, whose entire major league career comprised a half-inning appearance for the New York Giants in 1905.
“You know, we just don’t realize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening,” Graham, played by Burt Lancaster, said in the movie. “Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”
Archie Graham never got to bat. Jordan Sigalet never got to make a save.
But the goaltender from Cloverdale knew exactly the magnitude of his moment when he played the final 43 seconds of the Boston Bruins’ 6-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 7, 2006.
It was a triumph for Sigalet, who three years earlier had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while playing for Bowling Green University and told by doctors he would have to give up hockey.
A seventh-round draft pick of the Bruins in 2001, Sigalet spent four years in professional hockey. But that night against Tampa was Sigalet’s only game in the National Hockey League.
“With 43 seconds left I looked up and (starting goalie) Andrew Raycroft was kind of hunched over at the bench due to an ankle sprain,” Sigalet recalled Friday. “Right away, I put my mask on and hopped over the boards. I didn’t see a shot. But to be out there on the ice in an NHL game after being told that I would never play again was a dream come true.
“I read somewhere that I have the shortest NHL career in terms of minutes played. But I would have been happy just being on the bench in the NHL and practising with an NHL club. To step out on the ice in a game really was a dream come true.”
Graham’s impact was made as a doctor, not a baseball player, who devoted his life to the people of Chisholm, Minn. Sigalet is only 31, so it’s too soon to say what his greatest contribution to society will be.
It may be as a coach. He is in his second American Hockey League season with the Abbotsford Heat, instructing the Calgary Flames’ minor-league goalies.
But maybe Sigalet’s mark will be made as an advocate, educating people about MS and serving as an example or inspiration to others who have the disease that can ravage the nervous system.
Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding revealed this week he has MS. He and Sigalet exchanged text messages on Thursday and planned to speak Friday.
“It’s a really courageous thing he did,” Sigalet said. “It only took him a month to go public with it. It took me six or nine months — I can’t remember off the top of my head — because I was worried how people would perceive it. It’s tough, but this is a huge weight lifted off his shoulders. He can talk about it and talk to other people who are going through what he’s going through on a daily basis.
“Just by (communicating with) him and reading the articles about him, he’s got the right attitude and support from the organization, his teammates and his family. Attitude is one of the biggest things. Sometimes you get that why-me attitude and just feel sorry for yourself and since everyone else feels bad for you, you can’t really pick yourself up and keep going. I think Josh will, for sure.”
Sigalet spent three seasons with the Bruins’ farm team in Providence before ending his playing career with a winter in Europe. He is grateful the Bruins judged him on performance and not by his disease, which Sigalet insists did not lead to his retirement.
“There were a lot of doubters,” he said. “MS can affect your balance, your vision. You think about goaltending, those things are very important. Catching the disease early and getting on medication right away (helped). I think the stigma was the hardest part. You hear MS and Google it, and you always see the worst things. It’s different with everybody. Josh could have the one little episode that he had and never have another attack the rest of his life.”
Sigalet said there are good and bad days with the disease “but everyone has bad days whether you have MS or not and you just try to get through them.”
In Providence, sponsors donated money to MS research for each save Sigalet made. He and his family have staged dinners in Burnaby to raise awareness and funds to fight the disease. His MS diagnosis during his junior year at college came after Sigalet experienced numbness in his right foot.
Besides working for the Heat, Sigalet is a partner in Pro-Formance Goalie Schools in Metro Vancouver.
“Ever since I was diagnosed, I wanted to make something good out of the situation,” he said. “Hockey is a great tool to use to raise awareness about the disease and also raise some money.
“Some people have an attack and just get progressively worse and worse. But you can only look at each day and be thankful for the health you have now. For me, I always thought it could be worse. When the doctor walked into my hospital room that day and the first words out of his mouth were ‘things don’t look good,’ I expected to hear I had cancer or a brain tumour. So to hear MS was almost a relief. It could have been something a lot worse, and I’ve kind of let that motivate me.
“MS affected my career and my life in a lot of ways. But a lot of those ways have been positive; I know that sounds funny. It has made me a stronger person.”
And grateful for those 43 seconds in the NHL and everything else he has achieved so far.
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