When I saw Shea Weber wave to an empty Bell Centre before his video tribute celebrating his 1000th game on Tuesday, my mind went back to the beginning of his time in Montreal. No not the trade itself, but the first time he stepped out on the Bell Centre ice.
I remember writing at the time that so much of the attention after the trade was on the player the Canadiens traded away, it was on the general manager who made the trade, but very often not about the player Montreal acquired.
He had every reason to be skeptical that all fans would welcome him with open arms. The standing ovation he received that October evening in 2016 marked the start of the next era of the Canadiens. It also cemented Weber’s connection with the team and the city, long before he became the team’s captain.
It is an era that led us to where we are today, with the Canadiens on top of the NHL standings, albeit early on, with a 7-1-2 record.
Because of Weber’s injuries over the past few years, we have seen the team without him on the ice. It is harder, however, to imagine the organization without his impact.
Before Tuesday’s game Weber talked to the media about his achievement of playing 1000 games. It went as you would expect.
“It is a special night but it’s the second game of a back-to-back and we’re going to have a real hungry team after [Monday] night,” Weber said before adding that he was “looking forward to getting it over with.”
The Canadiens captain is not one to talk about himself. He would prefer to let his play do the talking. When he was asked about his place in the team’s history and the legacy he will leave, his answer was also as you would expect.
“I’m not thinking about leaving a lasting legacy,” Weber said. “My job is to be a good teammate, to help the Montreal Canadiens win and whatever comes from that, comes from that.”
When Weber joined the Canadiens, they were coming off of a bad season. His first few years with the team have been inconsistent and he dealt with injuries. Now the team is winning, and his legacy may be the example and culture he’s instilling on this team.
From Jesperi Kotkaniemi, to Nick Suzuki, to Alexander Romanov, all of them have stories about when they first met Shea Weber. Weber even announced Cole Caufield’s selection at the 2019 NHL Draft.
No matter who the next captain of the Canadiens will be, Weber’s blueprint will be the one to follow much like it was in Nashville where Roman Josi took over that job.
When Weber was mentioning players who made an impact on him as a professional hockey player, the name Rick Berry was mentioned. It’s not the first time that Weber mentioned Berry, who he played with for the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals but the impact he had on Weber remains memorable for the Canadiens defenceman.
“I wish I could take credit for Shea Weber,” Berry said laughing over the phone from Colorado. “Let’s be honest, this is just Shea Weber deflecting the attention, right? [It’s] very cool that he mentioned my name but I just happened to be at the right place at the right time as far as crossing paths with him in his career. I think we all knew Shea was on his way.”
Berry, who played 197 NHL games, was traded to Nashville after the season started. Only 26 at the time, and with all of his NHL games under his belt, he was told that he was going to mentor Weber, then 20 and in his first professional season.
“it was different, just because my career path was a little different,” Berry said. “I was probably going the other way at that point. I played my four years in the NHL... I went from being probably one of the youngest guys in the team and playing for the Washington Capitals to all of a sudden the oldest guy over in Utah.”
The Predators may have known what they had in Weber, even if others didn’t necessarily know at the time. Weber was taken 49th overall in the 2003 NHL Draft. Berry and his family had Weber over for dinners as they lived in the same building and Shea at the time didn’t have his own circle.
“[Predators GM] David Poile when he called me is telling me how he wanted me to work with this young kid Shea Weber and I knew nothing about him. Being a student of the game, I started looking him up and doing my research. To jump on the ice with him and start playing, it was like, ‘Wait a second, how did this guy slip all the way in the draft?’ I remember having a conversation with my dad and I was like, ‘this guy’s going to be a way better player than Dion Phaneuf’ and at the time, Phaneuf was all the talk.”
Phaneuf was taken ninth overall by the Calgary Flames in 2003.
Berry was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche where he had the opportunity to play with Ray Bourque and Joe Sakic as a young player. He said that Weber showed some of the same aspects of Sakic of leading by example which in turn makes their words ring louder.
“You could tell [Shea] cared about his teammates, and had a no one left behind kind of mentality,” Berry said. “He wants to see everybody have success, and creates an environment where they can have success. Make sure guys feel comfortable, whether it’s in the locker room, on the bus or on the ice and practice, wherever it is, that they’re given the chance to grow as much as they can. He was definitely a born leader.”