For 43 seconds, Jordan Sigalet finally got the chance to live out his dream. After spending 10 games on the bench as a back-up goalie for the Boston Bruins, he stepped onto an NHL sheet of ice on Jan. 7, 2006.
He did it with a disease that has no cure. But after he reached that pinnacle, Sigalet didn’t walk away from the game. He continued to pursue a career in professional hockey. His future in the NHL didn’t rest solely on stopping pucks. It didn’t end with a 43-second playing stint. It continued in coaching.
On Aug. 19, the Calgary Flames named the former Bowling Green State University goaltender as its goaltending coach.
“I always saw myself as a communicator and as a teacher, and I want to help other goalies reach the same dream that I did,” Sigalet said.
Sigalet, 33, has again reached the NHL, 10 years after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After the initial diagnosis, Sigalet has also become an advocate for fighting the neurological disease that, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide and may affect an individual’s vision, hearing, memory, balance, mobility, or endurance.
“It attacks the area around the nerve that transmits signals, and it can result in abnormal signals,” said Dr. Selena Nicholas-Bublick, a neurologist with ProMedica. “There’s damage to the nerves, and the part of the nerve that’s damaged is the part that helps produce signals and moves them to the brain and through the central nervous system. The myelin, which is the nerve cover, is damaged, and the signals that are sent are either damaged or they completely stop.”
For Sigalet, he first noticed something was wrong in February, 2004, when he woke up the morning after a two-game series against Northern Michigan and his foot was numb. Over the course of the next 24 hours, his whole body went numb.
A battery of tests administered by Bowling Green’s team doctors revealed the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, but Sigalet quietly announced the diagnosis nine months later, in a release put out by Bowling Green.
“We got the news that he had multiple sclerosis through a series of diagnoses, and for Jordan and his family, they didn’t want his life to change dramatically,” said Scott Paluch, who coached Sigalet at Bowling Green. “That was kept internally to honor Jordan’s privacy.”
Still, it meant there would be uncertainty about Sigalet’s health. Still, he continued to play. Paluch said he’d never worked with an athlete who had a condition of that magnitude.
Sure, hockey has its fair share of bumps, strains, bruises, and breaks, but nothing that required constant vigilance. Sigalet began to monitor what he ate, what medications he took, his sleeping habits, and learned his physical limitations. He knew he had a future in pro hockey, even given his health.
“Jordan wanted to see what it would entail, on a daily basis, for him to keep playing and for him to be able to live as much of a normal life as possible,” said Paluch, who is now a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“His episodes weren’t frequent and he was outstanding at communicating how he was feeling. But we were prepared to do anything necessary to make him comfortable.”
Sigalet found his comfort zone. In his final season at Bowling Green, he was 16-12-3 in 32 games, finished with a 2.89 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage and was named a finalist for the 2005 Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top player in Division I college hockey. He earned his degree from Bowling Green in computer animation.
He carved out a four-year playing career in the American Hockey League and in Austria while living with multiple sclerosis, but even that became difficult at a point. In November of 2007, Sigalet collapsed face-first onto the ice late in a game against Worcester and while he left the arena alert, he had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher and hospitalized.
That instance didn’t keep him from continuing a four-year playing career. He began his coaching career in 2010 with Everett of the Western Hockey League, then spent the past three seasons as the goaltending coach for Calgary’s American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford, B.C.
Less than three years after he retired from pro hockey he found an ally when Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding revealed in 2012 that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, yet continues to play in the NHL.
“We talked a lot about it,” Sigalet said. “It’s so nice to have someone else knowing what you’re going through on a regular basis. You learn the little things that help them manage their disease better.
“The hardest part about this disease is that it’s so different for everybody. Even the medications are different for each person. Each day, it’s trying to learn as much as you can.”
Calgary’s training camp opens Sept. 18, and Sigalet will work with Calgary’s goaltenders, including Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller, and Joni Ortio.
“Not having the physical exertion is huge for me,” Sigalet said. “But there’s mental stress. There’s pressure in professional sports. My job is to get our goalies as ready as they can be to play hockey. I don’t think this will have any negative effects on my health. It might prove some people wrong, people who might not have been sure that I could make a career in professional hockey.
“It’s something that, yes, I have to deal with for the rest of my life. I take three injections a day to manage the disease. But I didn’t let it stop me. I have always sent a message to people that if you can’t do exactly what you love to do, find other ways to stay involved.
“Don’t give up on your dreams. You can still reach your dreams despite your disease.”