BROSSARD, Que. — It’s Monday, and the Montreal Canadiens are working their way through a neutral-zone drill that forces a winger to pick up a puck by the sideboards and bump it to his supporting centreman. In this instance, that’s Andrew Shaw’s task, and right as he goes to complete it, he’s met with the full force of Shea Weber’s 240-pound frame.
Weber rides Shaw into the wall and pulls back ever so slightly from driving him straight through the glass. Then he skates away from the confrontation smiling ear-to-ear and laughing to himself.
Moments later, the Canadiens are engaged in a 3-on-3 drill between the hashmarks and Carey Price’s net, and that’s when Weber crosschecks Brendan Gallagher and jousts with him for position to deny a scoring chance. Then, on his next go, he leans on Michael Chaput, locks him in a bear hug, shoves him into the boards and pulls him down to the ice before going back to the front of the net with that big smile back on his face.
For the majority of Montreal’s one-hour workout, Weber’s smile was a near-permanent fixture and reveals a lighter side contrasting the stoic, all-business-all-the-time image he’s cultivated since his early days with the Nashville Predators.
As he spars with his teammates on the ice and trades jokes with them off it, you also can’t help but remark how comfortable Weber has become in his third season with the Canadiens.
“I feel much more at home now,” he says in response to a question comparing the feeling he has now with the one he had after being traded from Nashville to Montreal for P.K. Subban in 2016. “You set your roots and get more used to things, know your neighborhood and surroundings.”
Weber has found his place at the centre of a tight-knit Canadiens group which he became captain of in October. He’s helped lead Montreal to a 20-10-2 record since returning from off-season ankle and knee surgeries which forced him to miss the team’s first 24 games.
The six-foot-four native of Sicamous, B.C., has nine goals, 21 points, and leads the team in average time on ice per game (24:12). And his imprint in their dressing room, from the small piece of real estate he owns adjacent to the Canadiens crest that sits in the middle of the floor, has been enormous.
“He’s the guy,” says 20-year-old defence partner Victor Mete. “He’s definitely serious, but he likes to have fun around the guys as much as anyone. He’s always making jokes, all the time, about everybody.
“He’ll walk into the room every day, and every time I come in, he’s always like screaming, ‘What’s up, meat sauce?’ I think he just goes after everybody. No one’s safe.”
The same can be said of Weber on the ice. Whether it’s a practice or game, his opponents feel his wrath.
“I try to stay away from him as much as possible,” says Canadiens winger Jonathan Drouin.
Gallagher, meanwhile, welcomes the ability to compete against Weber in practice.
“He’s a guy that doesn’t go easy on you, so it’s something that gets you ready for the next game,” says Gallagher.
The Canadiens next play in Nashville on Thursday in what will be Weber’s 900th career game.
It will be a special one for Weber after spending 11 seasons with the Predators — six of them as captain — and he relishes the opportunity to return.
“It was great city for me for 11 years,” he says. “Obviously there’s going to be roots and stuff that you’ve got there. But at the end of the day, we’ve got a job to do, and that’s what’s most important.”
There’s that serious side again. Everyone with the Canadiens respects it, just as they respect his affability.
Canadiens coach Claude Julien hopes his team likes Weber enough to go out and win for him in the milestone match.
“Hopefully they’ll leave it all out there on the ice and make sure it’s a game to remember,” says Julien.
No matter what time it is, Weber has the undivided attention of his teammates.
Gallagher says Weber has a presence where when he speaks, you listen.
“When he’s going about his business during a game, you can tell how competitive he is, how bad he wants to win, and he’s constantly doing the right thing,” says Gallagher. “Day after day, he does the work and does the things he needs to do not only to get better himself but to help other guys and help the team.
“He’s a leader in every sense of the word. He understands the difference between right and wrong, he does the right thing and has this ability to get people to follow him.”
That, and a few jokes, hits, crosschecks and bear hugs a day.