MONTREAL—Give Shea Weber a silver stick and he would cross check you with it.
That tactic, among many others, has worked well for Weber through 999 regular-season games in the world’s toughest and best hockey league, helping him earn a reputation as one of the most ferocious competitors to ever chop up the ice in NHL arenas.
Not that Weber’s an unsavoury character. As Minnesota Wild defenceman Ryan Suter said last week, “I joke he’s a big teddy bear off the ice, and then on the ice he’s a grizzly bear.”
Weber is also so much more than that. Off the ice the 35-year-old is a trusted friend and a family man. On it, he’s a high-scoring, high-impact mountain of a man (or “Man Mountain” as Canadian coach Mike Babcock famously dubbed him), a natural leader, and a legend.
Weber’s illustrious career has seen him record 220 goals—104 of them on the power play, where he ranks 10th all-time among defencemen—and collect 576 points. He’s thrown over 2,000 hits, blocked over 1,600 shots and amassed close to 700 penalty minutes.
We’re talking about one of the most complete defencemen of a generation. A gold stick would be more fitting for him, rather than the silver one the NHL awards to all players who reach the 1,000-game mark. As former Canadian Olympic and World Cup of Hockey partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic put it, “Weber’s one of the most respected players to ever play the game.”
I spoke with Vlasic, Suter and three other players who have infinite respect for the Sicamous, B.C., native. They’re players who have lined up beside Weber or across from him, and can offer the most informed insight on his career.
On Weber’s personality and presence…
ROMAN JOSI, NASHVILLE PREDATORS CAPTAIN
“When you come into the league as a defenceman, you know who Shea is. He’s one of the best defencemen in the world. He was the captain here, so right away he’s a guy you look at, a guy you look up to. Just playing with him and seeing how he acts around the rink, the way he trains, the way he behaves off the ice, how nice of a person he was to everyone and to me as a rookie—we became really good friends right away. It was just great. He’s a great guy to look up to.
“I think as a young kid you come to the rink and see your captain work the hardest in every practice and every game, always giving everything, and it makes you want to do the same thing. You always have to look up to Shea. We all looked up to Shea where it was like, ‘What is Shea doing tonight?’ If we were thinking of going out for a night, the first question was, ‘Is Shea going out, or is he not?'”
SETH JONES, COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS ALTERNATE CAPTAIN
“He leads by example, with his work ethic and his passion to win. He’s always looking to make everyone better, and I had a great time just trying to keep my eyes and ears open at all times when I was around him. And I still look up to him, and he’s a great friend. I know if I call, he’ll answer. Just a great guy off the ice, hopefully a lifelong friend.
“I would definitely say he has a great sense of humour, and I think that’s part of leadership is knowing when to lighten a room or when to be more serious about certain situations. He was very good at knowing the temperature of a room; good win, bad win, good loss, bad loss, he always seemed to have that figured out. We had a great leadership group in Nashville, with Mike Fisher and the older guys, but he was out in front. He could make jokes on practice days, but when it came time to be serious, he was that guy.”
BEN CHIAROT, MONTREAL CANADIENS DEFENCE PARTNER
“He’s like the big brother to everybody. He can go for beers with the older guys, or he can play video games with the 20-year-olds. He connects with everybody. He’s just a leader, and it’s all pretty natural to him. I don’t think he tries to do it, he just does it. There’s no rah-rah, everybody just looks up to him.
“When it comes to hockey and on the ice, dealing with the media and his job, he’s very serious. There’s no joking around, there’s no cutting corners. But as soon as we’re not doing our jobs, he likes to goof around. He’s one of the guys, he loves hanging out with the guys outside of the rink. People see just the hockey side of him and they don’t really get to see the goofy or funny side to him, but we see it. He likes to have as good a time as anyone out there, and that’s part of what makes him such a good player and a good leader. He’s dead serious on the ice, and he’s a fun guy to be around off the ice.”
MARC-EDOUARD VLASIC, SAN JOSE SHARKS DEFENCEMAN
“When I first stepped in the Team Canada room—Bergeron, Crosby—they’re all the best players, and being a d-man, you’re going straight to the section where the d-men are. There’s Weber, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, me, P.K. Subban and Jay Bouwmeester at the Olympics, but in 2014 Weber was the main guy. Then Keith, then Doughty after that. It’s just so cool to be in that room and see those guys, and you see Weber on the back end and the big man that he is and the amount of space he takes on the ice. You walk in and he’s a big guy, and now he has a beard…So, he’s even more, ‘Holy crap, this guy’s scary.’
“On the ice he turns the switch on, he’s got that look in his eye, and you’re like, ‘I better not get in his way.’ ”
RYAN SUTER, MINNESOTA WILD ALTERNATE CAPTAIN
“I think it was early that the signs were there he’d be a captain. Just his presence—he’s just a big, strong guy. He’s soft-spoken away from the rink, but when he gets on the ice, he plays so hard and is so intense. I joke he’s a big teddy bear off the ice, and then on the ice he’s a grizzly bear. He’s a leader, and you knew he was one right away.”
On Weber’s playing style vs. that of the new-school defenceman…
“The game definitely changed a little bit with Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar and all the great-skating defencemen, and I definitely think Shea goes under the radar because of it. I played with him for so long, and he’s unbelievable. He does it all. He’s probably the hardest defenceman to play against. Forwards hate playing against him. He’s got an unbelievable shot. He’s just one of those guys that really does it all, he’s one of the most complete defencemen. I think everybody in the league knows how good he is. It’s pretty amazing how well he does everything.”
“I think it’s just the way the game’s changing is you see a lot more speedier forwards and defencemen and fewer of the methodical ones. The game has just gotten faster, and I think fans think that’s more exciting to watch.
“But if you know hockey, you know that a defenceman like Shea can be just as influential as an offensive guy. You need guys who do the little things well on the other side of the puck, and Shea does all the little things perfectly. Not that Shea doesn’t play offence; he’s gotten 20 goals multiple times in his career and has been up for a Norris multiple times, so he definitely does it at both ends.
“But I think just a big, six-foot-four, 230-240-pound guy is just such a presence on the ice. The toughness and grit of Shea is what carries a team, in my opinion.”
“It’s just become that offensive defenceman is now considered the best defenceman when that’s not the only thing to do with playing defence. What those new-school guys do is impressive and takes a ton of work and skill, but if you were to ask 100 forwards in the league who they’d rather not play against I guarantee you Weby’s name is going to come up more times than not. I think that’s what you want for a defenceman is someone who puts doubt in the forward’s mind and someone who, when you see that player’s name on the board you’re like, ‘Oh (expletive), I gotta play against this guy and go into the corner with him.’ I think that’s more impactful, especially come playoff time when you have to do it four-to-seven times in a row. To have to play that guy that much, where he wears you down physically, it’s just miserable. That’s what should be valued in a defenceman, and that’s what our team values in Weby.
“He’s also just so consistent with the plays that he makes. As his partner, I’m never thinking, ‘Okay, what’s he doing here?’ I know when he’s going up with the puck, or I know when he’s coming D-to-D to me. There’s no guesswork with what he’s doing out there, and that’s what makes him so good is just being so consistent, predictable and reliable. You talk about a guy like (Hall of Famer) Nick Lidstrom, who just did the same simple things over and over, and it’s the same with Weby. That’s what makes those defencemen great is the predictability in what they’re doing. And then obviously Weby’s shot is what his hallmark is, and that’s something special to him and no one else. And outside of that, there’s his physicality. All of that has made him the premiere defenceman of our generation.”
“Nowadays I think you’re looking at points and flashiness, and in a way he is that. As another d-man, I think he’s flashy in the way he plays as a defenceman, and that’s why he’s been on Team Canada in 2010, 2014 and 2016. And he’s been one of the best defencemen for a very long time, and I still think he is. He’s still part of that elite group of defencemen.
“Is he given less credit than some of the other guys? Maybe.
“But all other d-men—and the forwards, too, still appreciate how good he is at both ends of the rink.”
“I think guys like Shea that do the little things—the simple things you don’t see on scoresheets or highlight reels, and all the simple plays that are made to make things easier. That’s undervalued now.”
On Weber’s iconic shot, his strength, conditioning and toughness…
“We still keep the records of who wins the conditioning every year at camp, and he won pretty much every year he was here.”
“If you give him an opportunity to shoot, watch out. He’s still the main point of focus in the special teams meeting before every game—what we’re going to do to take his shot away and how we’re going to kill differently from if we were up against the other 29 teams in the league. Shea presents a lot of challenges, and clearly he’s capable of making big defensive plays.
“There’s only so much you can do about a guy like that. He’s going to alter a game no matter what you do.
“It’s crazy how hard he shoots. I remember in my first year we were playing in the summer, taking one-timers in Nashville, and he shot one through the boards. He put a hole in the boards, and I think I tweeted it. We were like, ‘Where did the puck go?’ And we looked behind the net, and there was a hole. I was like, ‘What the…?’ I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
“I’m not part of the off-season Peloton group, but I have heard that Weby’s on top. He’s very competitive with everything he does, so I believe it.
“He’s a big, heavy guy and he’s racing against Victor Mete and Artturi Lehkonen and those little guys. I can’t imagine he’s not beating those guys in a bike race.”
“You don’t want to block his shot. It takes a lot of courage to get in front of that thing.
“I was blocking one of his shots in San Jose and he ripped one off my head. That was pretty scary.
“Physically, if you go in his corner, if ever you do get out of his corner, you’re working harder to get out of his corner than anybody else’s corner. When he lines you up going down his side, you’re going to be paying the price to get to wherever you need to go.”
“Players would avoid his side and slowly come my way, but he would come flying over after them and I’d see him coming out of the corner of my eye and have to get out of the way.”
On Weber’s lengthy and dominant career, and the missing Norris Trophy from his mantle…
“He definitely should’ve won a Norris. Still can.
“But playing 1,000 games in this league is a huge accomplishment for anyone. And I think, for him, the way he plays—he plays the game so hard and, here in Nashville, he has battled through so many injuries just to play. He’s definitely one of the toughest guys in the league. Playing 1,000 games is huge. He should be very proud. I’m definitely very proud, and I hope he can enjoy it.”
“It’s crazy he’s never won the Norris. I remember he was second a couple of times when I was growing up, maybe third another. He’s always deserved to be in that conversation and, to this day, I think he still belongs in that conversation.
“And to get to 1,000, you have to endure injuries and things that some other guys wouldn’t play through. But that’s who Shea is, and that’s how Shea leads. If he can put on his skates, and he can put his helmet on and hold a stick, he’s going to get out there and play.”
“It’s mind-blowing he’s played 1,000 games and never won a Norris. If you look back, too, he had 20 goals. You talk about Josi and how all those types of guys are thought of as the premiere offensive guys, but Weby scores just as much, if not more than those guys; he just doesn’t look like Quinn Hughes when he’s skating around the ice. Just because he’s not generating his offence by skating the puck end-to-end doesn’t mean he’s not generating a ton for a team.
“His shot, outside of Alex Ovechkin’s shot, is considered to be one of the most dangerous weapons in the league. I know that when I was playing against him, it was my least favourite game of the year knowing if I blocked that shot I’m possibly missing the next eight weeks. He still has a chance to win one, he’s still playing great, but it’s definitely upsetting that he’s never been able to get one when you see some of the names that are on there.”
“I think he could’ve won it, but I don’t think he’s the kind of guy that’s upset he didn’t. He’s all about team championships. He’d rather win one Stanley Cup than 10 Norris Trophies. I think that’s the type of player he is. I’ve been lucky to play with him on two of those Canada teams, and I can tell you that’s what he’s all about.
“As for 1,000, it’s hard to make the NHL, but it’s even harder to stay in the NHL for that long and be that good. It means he’s been that good for that long. You don’t get to 1,000 by accident. It’s because he does the right things every day, because he’s a dominant player. And there’s not many guys that get there over the history of the game.”
“Getting to 1,000 speaks to the volume of his competitiveness, to the effort he puts in off the ice and his commitment to being a top player and a good teammate and leader.
“People hear about when you break something or something major happens, but they don’t hear about the every day grind that goes into playing that much. You maybe feel healthy for 20 per cent of your season, and the other 80 per cent you’re grinding and trying to find a way to make it through the game or make it into the game. For a guy to play 1,000, there’s a lot of games where he’s thinking, ‘Oh gosh, how am I going to get through this one? How am I going to get feeling where I can play at a high level?’ That’s the thing a lot of people don’t understand.
“It’s impossible to hide once you’re on the ice; if you’re playing the games you’re getting hit, you’re blocking shots and just doing so many little things that go into it. And then there’s the ice conditions, the travel—you’re getting into some cities at 4 or 5 in the morning and then playing that night. There’s so much that goes into it. For anybody to play 1,000 games is an amazing accomplishment.”