OTTAWA — You want to know the key to shooting like Shea Weber, kids?
Shoot like Shea Weber.
That means shooting repeatedly. Like, from the moment you step off the school bus until you’re absolutely sick of pulling back and slapping down with all you’ve got.
“As a kid, I loved shooting the puck. My dad, he worked at a lumber mill, so he’d bring home pieces of plywood for me to shoot at beside the house,” Weber says. You can just picture Larry Bird shooting a zillion and one free throws from a dirt driveway in West Baden, Indiana. “Out in the yard we’d set up a net with some cans and just shoot. I’d race home with my friends after school and just shoot and shoot till I was just sick of shooting.”
And how much of that time was devoted to technique?
“Obviously a bit of accuracy because I’d hang cans in the corners,” says the 26-year-old defenceman, “but I just loved shooting hard. I wanted to shoot as hard as I could. I still have to practise. I mean, every summer when I start skating again, it’s like starting from scratch again.”
On two separate in-game occasions, the native of Sicamous, B.C.’s right-handed emission stick has snapped a puck right through the twine. It could be argued that if the 6-foot-4 Weber didn’t give up five inches to the Boston Bruins’ talented freak of nature Zdeno Chara, he’d be a shoo-in for Hardest Shot champ every All-Star Weekend.
San Jose Sharks and Team Alfredsson coach Todd McLellan, who will be standing behind Weber on Sunday, believes the Skills Competition is likely more attractive to NHL fans than the game itself.
“I have a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, and if they’re watching the TV and their buddies are calling them and debating about who’s going to do this or that — and they are doing that — then it’s a valuable event,” McLellan says.
At the 2011 All-Star Game in Raleigh, North Carolina, Weber placed second to Chara in the Hardest Shot event; a repeat of the 2009 final result when it was held in Montreal. Chara has the opportunity to win Hardest Shot for a fifth consecutive time on Saturday, but it should be noted that in ’11 Weber outpaced the Slovak with jolts of 104.6 and 104.8 in the preliminary rounds. Chara then went on to set a record in the final round by firing a 105.9, which drew a standing ovation.
“I like watching the hardest shot,” says Nashville Predators defenceman Ryan Suter, “It’s fun to see who can beat Big Z. Shea does everything well. He’s got a great shot. He’s strong. He’s physical. It’s fun to play with a friend.”
And Weber — a low-key but not-so-secret weapon for Team Alfredsson this weekend — knows how to have fun too. Before Christmas the Predators filmed Weber and country star Dierks Bentley shooting at an empty net in Bridgestone Arena from Section 317. It was gimmicky, but impressive. Yet it caused some to believe camera trickery was involved.
Weber came clean on Friday. It actually took him two shots to hit the net from the cheap seats.
“I did it on my second shot. The first one missed the net wide. With the Jumbotron hanging so low and me being so high, I was worried about hitting it,” Weber says. “Luckily I was working with the Jumbotron people, and they said if I hit it, they would just fix it. It was a lot of fun. I think Dierks took about 15 shots. He came close but didn’t get it.”
Asked if Weber had been practicing in anticipation of his Howitzer-off with Chara, Suter replies, “He hasn’t been working on it, but he has tried to talk me into cutting his stick or something so he can win. They’ll have fun competing with it.” He then slyly added “no comment” and chuckled when pressed about whether it was possible to juice-up a stick for a Hardest Shot contest, giving the shooter a corked bat-style advantage.
“Suter and Weber, they’re really the backbone of the Nashville team, so hopefully they can keep these two guys,” says former Predator and current Philadelphia Flyers D-man Kimmo Timonen. “These guys play 28 minutes a game and they’re some of the best guys in the entire league. These kind of defencemen don’t come around very often.”
“The other day I passed one over to him for a one-timer, and he took something off of it to make sure it hit the net, and it was still harder than most guys’ shots,” Suter says. “When he’s shooting the puck, you gotta be right close to him or get out of the way.”
Weber can’t pick a single worst accident that resulted from his duck-and-cover slapper because his point blasts have claimed too many victims, often in friendly fire.
“There’s more than a few moments. I’ve broken some teammates bones,” he says. His voice rings simultaneously sheepish and proud. “Hopefully that doesn’t happen again anytime soon. It’s not good to be dropping guys on your own team.”