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Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber follows the action against the New York Islanders in Montreal on March 21, 2019.
Canadiens centre Andrew Shaw lines up for a faceoff during NHL game against the New York Islanders at the Bell Centre in Montreal on March 21, 2019.
Imagine walking into the Canadiens’ locker room for the first time at training camp and seeing Shea Weber — the Man Mountain — sitting there.
You’d think it would be very intimidating for a young player, but apparently it’s not at all.
“He’s pretty imposing on the ice, but off the ice he’s a really nice guy,” Nick Suzuki said after Thursday’s morning skate in Brossard. “He walked up my first day here last year, he shook my hand and welcomed me to the team. He’s been nothing but great to everyone. You can see why he’s the captain. Just all the leadership and his acceptance of everyone. He’s always talking to everybody.”
This is going to be Weber’s fourth season in Montreal and his second since replacing Max Pacioretty as captain. It’s a job Weber doesn’t take lightly.
“Being a captain here, there’s a rich history of the names of guys before me and it’s definitely an honour,” he said. “Not to say that it wasn’t a huge honour to follow the guys (as captain) in Nashville. But there’s some pretty legendary and Hall of Fame names that I get to follow in their footsteps here, and maybe that’s probably the biggest difference. … The rest of it is pretty much you want to treat it the same with your teammates. In that aspect, you don’t want to make a bigger deal out of it.”
Weber doesn’t like to say much when he speaks with the media and basically refuses to talk about himself. Teammates will sometimes share stories about what he’s like when the media’s not around, such as the invitation to Weber’s home for a barbecue Victor Mete received on his first day of training camp with the Canadiens two years ago as 19-year-old.
Now, they’re regular defence partners.
“He’s taught me a lot,” Mete said recently. “The little things that he teaches me on the ice and off the ice, I think that’s helped me come a long way.”
Weber said the biggest improvement in Mete’s game has been his confidence and ability to use his skating to shut things down in the defensive zone and not be afraid to do it. Mete’s comfort level with Weber obviously has a lot to do with that.
“The biggest thing I want them to realize is that I’m just one of their teammates and we’re going to be working together,” Weber said. “Obviously, everyone’s really respectful and I get that aspect of it. But you want to make them feel comfortable and feel part of our family, which is our team here.”
During the one-on-one interview after Thursday’s morning skate, I tried my best to get Weber to talk about himself and succeeded — well, sort of — when I asked the 34-year-old if he feels he has anything to prove this season after missing the first 24 games last year following foot and knee surgeries.
After a long pause, Weber said: “I mean, I don’t know if people … I don’t know what you mean by that question, something to prove? Obviously, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best that I can every year, every game, every day. There’s been constant drive to get better for me every day. So I don’t think that there’s any proving to anyone else other than maybe myself or my teammates that I want to help them win. That’s kind of a tough question to answer because the will to get better and be better every day is still there.”
Weber cracked a smile after I asked him about the last time he felt this healthy.
“I don’t know … I don’t even want to think about that,” he said. “I just feel good and that’s good. I’m excited.”
When asked if there’s anything he might do differently if he could go back and relive his first training camp with the Nashville Predators after they selected him in the second round (49th overall) at the 2003 NHL Draft, Weber laughed and said: “That was a long time ago.”
Then, after thinking about the question for a few seconds, he said: “I don’t know. You know what, honestly I went into my first camp not expecting to make it. I just wanted to go there and make the most of my experience. You never know … maybe I could have made it? I felt like I wasn’t ready and maybe that’s something that I would change as a different aspect of approaching it that way. I probably still wouldn’t have made it, but just having that mentality of you never know and pushing for a spot, trying to soak everything up and do everything the right way. But at the same time, I don’t know if I really felt that I had a chance to play my first year.”
The man has always been a master of modesty.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019