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Abbotsford Heat goalie coach Jordan Sigalet chats with Leland Irving about the finer points of goaltending during a recent practice.
Dan Kinvig

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Goalie coach Sigalet can't be stopped by MS

Jordan Sigalet’s NHL goaltending career lasted all of 43 seconds – a true blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stint in Boston Bruins silks on Jan. 7, 2006.

But that fleeting moment in time represented the high point of a remarkable journey. Nearly three years prior, after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), Sigalet was told by doctors that he’d never be able to play hockey again.

So, while 43 seconds might not seem like a long time, it meant the world to Sigalet.

“It was a huge honour,” recalled Sigalet, who came on in relief of injured Bruins starter Andrew Raycroft at the tail end of a 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I’d backed up for about nine or 10 games, and Raycroft came skating over to the bench, all keeled over. I’m like, ‘Oh man, I’m going in.’ The heart started racing, and I can’t even remember it at this point, it was so short. I didn’t even get a shot (on goal). But I was out there.

“I can say I played the game.”

These days, the 30-year-old Sigalet works as the Abbotsford Heat’s goalie coach, but he also serves as an inspiration to many people who live with MS, an inflammatory disease which affects the ability of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to communicate with each other effectively.

Sigalet’s first inkling that something was wrong came back in the spring of 2003, when he was at Bowling Green State University. After playing back-to-back games on a Friday and a Saturday, he woke up Sunday morning and his left foot was completely numb.

“I thought I’d slept on it funny, like how you might wake up with pins and needles in your arm or your leg,” he explained. “I went about my day and it didn’t go away – it just kept humming and buzzing every time I stepped. The next day I woke up, and it was like that from the chest down.”

After undergoing a battery of tests, Sigalet received the gut-wrenching MS diagnosis. His first instinct was to keep the news to himself.

“I’d been drafted by Boston, and I thought if they found out, they’d just drop me and forget about me,” he said. “For six months, just my family knew.”

Sigalet immediately began taking medication to slow the progress of the disease, but he only sat out one game before returning to the Bowling Green lineup.

“Because my hands were still numb, I had to get used to holding a stick again,” he said.

In December of 2003, about nine months after his initial MS diagnosis, Sigalet decided it was time to go public.

“There were times when I wasn’t feeling good when I’d hide it and say I was just sick, or had a cold,” he said. “I was kind of sick of lying, and I think people started to realize something a little more serious was going on.

“It was just a burden on my shoulders, and once I told everyone, I had great support. It was a great relief to me, and let me just focus on my hockey.”

The following season, Sigalet returned to the Bowling Green lineup and put together his best collegiate campaign, going 16-12-3 with a 2.89 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.

His remarkable return was featured in Sports Illustrated and Men’s Health, and he was nominated for an ESPY award as the best comeback athlete for 2004-05.

“I didn’t win the award, but I got to go down to Hollywood for the awards, got to visit the Playboy mansion – a lot of different events,” he said. “It was just a great experience.

“Going public allowed me to reach out to other people, using hockey through those publications, to get the word out about MS.”

After three seasons in the Bruins organization followed by a short stint with a pro team in Vienna, Austria, Sigalet retired and made the transition into coaching. He began teaching private lessons through Pro Formance Goalie School, then was hired as the goalie coach for the WHL’s Everett Silvertips for the 2010-11 season.

Sigalet made the jump to pro hockey in August, when he was hired to be the Heat’s first full-time goalie coach. Head coach Troy Ward said Sigalet’s presence brings “a whole new level of professionalism” to the AHL club.

Leland Irving, the Heat’s starting netminder, expressed excitement at the opportunity to work with a dedicated position coach.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Irving said. “Jordan’s a great goalie coach. He’s detailed, but up-to-date with all the modern fundamentals of goaltending. He’s very level-headed – he’s not going to scream and yell at you, but everything he says makes sense.”

Sigalet, who was born in New Westminster and grew up in Cloverdale, has taken on several fundraising projects to support MS research. His foundation, Shut Out MS, stages a dinner and charity hockey game in Burnaby every second year, and has generated approximately $180,000 for the National MS Society.

“Sometimes you almost get MS as a middle name – Jordan Sigalet with MS,” he said with a wry grin. “But every time somebody reads it or hears it, it does create that awareness.

“I know when I was diagnosed, I didn’t even know what MS was. I’m hoping the next time someone’s diagnosed, they’ll know a little bit more about it, and maybe there’ll even be a cure by that time.”

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