MONTREAL — On the eve of the 110th birthday of the Montreal Canadiens, they invited 11 of their former captains to be celebrated at centre ice of the Bell Centre.
A little under two hours and 32 minutes later, the team’s current captain, Shea Weber, scored the all-important insurance marker, 178 feet away from the opposing net, to give the Canadiens their first win in nine games.
The 34-year-old played 29:49, had three shots on net, six attempts, and he finished with a goal, an assist and a plus-3 rating in the 4-2 win over the New York Islanders. And after the game, standing at centre ice as the first star, he was asked by RDS analyst Marc Denis to assess his own play.
Weber laughed and said, “Great team effort.”
This is what makes Weber who he is — a selfless leader who is as happy to share the credit when things go well as he is willing to take on the blame when they don’t.
Maybe Weber’s NHL rap sheet doesn’t quite measure up with those of the 11 men who were honoured on Tuesday for wearing the fabled Canadiens ‘C’ before him — winners of a combined 46 Stanley Cups, seven Selke Trophies, three Norris Trophies, three Conn Smythe Trohpies, two Masterton Trophies, one Lady Byng Trophy and one King Clancy Award — but he was hardly out of place posing for a picture with them before the puck dropped on this game.
Weber’s goal was the 212th of his career, which put him one behind Brad Park for the 18th-most by a defenceman in NHL history. His assist was his 14th of the season, his 22nd point in his 28th game, and combined with his goal it put him one point off the team-lead held by Tomas Tatar (24).
This season, Weber ranks fifth among the league’s defencemen in points, his nine goals put him second behind Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton (10), and despite a rough start in his own end he leads the Canadiens with a plus-9 rating. Over his career, he has 557 points in 953 games.
Impressive? You bet.
But of equal value is what Weber’s done off the ice throughout his career.
And what Weber did off the ice to keep the waters calm around the Canadiens — as they tumbled down the standings and agonized over the devastating blows that came with every loss they accumulated over the last three weeks — was vital to their bounce back on Tuesday.
“He’s done a great job of making sure his body language is right, that his outlook and perspective is something that young guys can look at and understand,” said Canadiens assistant captain Brendan Gallagher, who assisted on Montreal’s first goal and scored the second against the Islanders. “I think when guys around the room can look at how he handled the situation, the way he just worked and looked for solutions, it’s huge. His accountability is huge. It’s important to have your leaders lead properly, and he definitely did that.”
The signs have been there since Weber took over as the 30th captain in Canadiens history on Oct. 1, 2018, and they’ve been crystal clear throughout this seemingly interminable winless streak.
On the ice, he played over 23 minutes in all but two of the eight games, he recorded a total of 32 shots, scored two goals and added three assists, and he worked himself to the bone. Off of it, he took on all the tough questions from the media, and behind closed doors he got his teammates to focus on committing to the plan Canadiens coach Claude Julien was selling, the one he (and they) knew would eventually get them back on track.
Weber said it was extremely trying — not just on him but on everyone — but it’s clear he’s uniquely fit to lead in these situations.
“He’s our captain, and that’s what captains do. They lead not only on the ice, but they lead off the ice,” said Julien. “They got what we call their other core group of guys, and there’s other people who support them that do a job behind the scenes that nobody else sees except for them and sometimes the coaches. And even sometimes the coaches aren’t aware of the stuff they’ll do behind closed doors, and that’s always been the case in hockey.”
If you weren’t paying close attention, you’d never notice the degree to which Weber leads.
Here’s one small thing, but by no means is it insignificant: When the Canadiens are preparing for the media to enter their dressing room when they’re on the road, the equipment staff is loading vans to get the team’s gear sorted and prepared for travel to the next city. On all the trips we’ve been on — and there have been many since he arrived with the Canadiens in June of 2016 — we have never once seen him allow an equipment manager to carry his bag.
“It’s just something my dad taught me when I started playing hockey,” Weber explained after Tuesday’s game. “He always said if I was going to play, I was going to carry my own bag. That hasn’t changed.”
It hasn’t gone unnoticed by teammates – especially the younger ones, like 20-year-old rookie Nick Suzuki, who assisted on Jeff Petry’s winning goal against New York.
“He tells everyone, ‘You can clean up after yourself, carry your own bag. If you’re not doing anything, make sure you’re doing that,’ Suzuki said. “He’s just a great guy, and a great leader on and off the ice, and he’s definitely one of the most respected guys in the league.”
As Gallagher put it, “Webby just does the right things, whether people are watching or not. And he does it day after day and it’s not a forced effort; it’s just who he is.”
We got one more sample of who Weber is after Tuesday’s game was over.
His teammates were celebrating the win, they were laughing about and revelling in that good feeling they hadn’t had in so long while he was answering questions from the media.
“We can’t sit back and be satisfied here,” Weber said as a stern look washed over his face. “It’s just the start of getting our train rolling again.”