Our story begins at the end of January 2020. The Laval Rocket announces that it will host the American League All-Star game in 2021 and holds a press conference, attended by Francis Bouillon, one of the players in charge of player development at the Canadian.
Shea Weber has 977 games on the clock. If he doesn’t miss any, he will play his 1000e seven weeks later, March 19, in San Jose. Bouillon, who played three seasons in Nashville, is the perfect starting point for our report.
“He was 25 when I got him as captain. What I remember from this guy is that he is a model, ”Bouillon said to colleague Simon-Olivier Lorange.
That day, the Habs ceded Cale Fleury to Laval. The young defenseman had carved out a job at training camp, causing some surprise, but he was starting to run out of steam.
“When the Canadiens kept Cale, I said, ‘The best thing you can do is put yourself in Shea Weber’s pants. He can teach you so much about psychology, professionalism. ” ”
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Two days later, the Columbus Blue Jackets land in Montreal for the traditional Sunday Super Bowl game.
In a corridor of the Bell Center, Seth Jones comes to chat with us. Here’s one who learned “psychology, professionalism” from Weber. When he arrived in Nashville, at the age of 19, he set down at Weber’s house.
The moment to speak to him is perfect. A week earlier, Jones was in the same locker room as his mentor in the NHL All-Star Game Skills Competition. “We took news. I saw Bailey and his children, ”he says, smiling.
Jones delves into his memories, mainly of the three months he lived with his former captain in Nashville. “I am the first to whom he introduced his first son. I was the first in the hospital. This moment will always unite us. I’m like Uncle Seth! ”
Jones was then a recruit. He was traded to Columbus in his third season, and established himself there as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. But he remains grateful for Weber’s support.
“He showed me life,” he says. Often, recruits find themselves in a hotel or condo downtown, and do not really know where to go, what to do. It was special that Shea and Bailey invited me to live with them. I tried not to disturb, I made my bed every day! ”
We traveled together, he was the one driving. Maybe he didn’t trust my driving skills!
Jones only played two and a half years with Weber, but has faced him often since. Is there a particular game that comes to mind?
” Not necessarily. When you think of Shea, you think of his shot. Since taking on him, I assure you that Shea Weber occupies a large part of our shorthanded meetings! We change the way we play when he’s on the ice.
“Otherwise, his leadership is what stands out the most. He had this way of making sure the guys were listening when he spoke. He didn’t do it every game. If you talk all the time, it can dilute the meaning of what you are saying.
“When he speaks, we know it’s meaningful. Guys are like, “Oh shit, Shea is mad.” It’s something that I try to incorporate into my leadership. ”
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A week earlier, Jones had witnessed his 171.4 km / h (106.5 mph) shot, which won Weber the most powerful shot contest.
It was with this shot that he smashed a net at the Vancouver Games. He also has turned poor Joel Eriksson Ek into a martyr.
“When we practiced on the power play, he was careful and kept his shots low,” remembers goaltender Carter Hutton, former Predators, now with the Sabers, whom he met in Buffalo a year ago. He was trying not to kill us except when the shorthanded players got cocky. There, he could shoot a bullet, and the keeper ended up paying for the others! ”
The day after the Super Bowl, we meet in Newark with Damon Severson, defenseman for the New Jersey Devils, who played for the same junior club as Weber, in Kelowna, and who spends his summers there. The two train together.
“At the start of training, you have to warm up the goalies. It’s summer, so it’s obviously lighter. So he stands at the red line, he raises the stick to gain momentum, and even from there he thrills the goalkeepers, ”describes Severson.
His favorite Weber moment in the NHL? “In fact, I mostly remember his games at the Olympics,” says Severson. He was helping the team so much. He’s a playoff player. If you have a guy like him on your team, you have a very good chance of winning. ”
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Despite all his qualities, Weber is not perfect. One of the reasons Severson spoke of the Olympics is that the number 6 has never had a long run in the playoffs.
Another stain on his file: his medical check-up. In Nashville, he avoided major injuries. But since arriving in Montreal, he has missed 90 of the 326 games the Canadiens have played, mainly due to his foot injury in 2017, which escalated.
Life does things funny. Weber’s march towards his 1000e match was interrupted by an injury for two weeks, in February 2020. When he returned to the game, his 1000e match is scheduled for 1er April… in Nashville!
“It would be so fitting. The one who starts this is Barry Trotz, met at the beginning of March, at the training center of the Islanders in New York. Head coach of the Predators from 1998 to 2014, it was Trotz who welcomed Weber to the NHL, and made him his captain in 2010.
“Without Shea Weber in Nashville, without Ryan Suter, the Predators could have moved. People thought we would go to Hamilton, Trotz recalls. I was there when we ran out of money. It’s guys like Shea who helped us out, who were in the community, who planted our roots when we didn’t have them. Look at Nashville today, it’s hard to find more loyal supporters. ”
And as a captain? “Sometimes the coach has trouble expressing his vision to the group. This is where it is important to have a captain able to convey a message …
“When you talk to a player, sometimes they think, ‘Trotz is on my back.’ When it comes from the captain, he might be like, “Wait, maybe the coach is right about that.” The captain is the extension of the coaching staff. Shea gets the message and passes it on. Young people in Montreal are behaving well and that comes from what Shea conveys. ”
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March 10, 2020. The 1000e match is still scheduled for 1er April, but the pandemic is starting to hit the sports world in the face. Two days earlier, the Indian Wells tennis tournament was canceled.
In the NHL, we continue to play, but the measures change from hour to hour. At the Predators’ morning practice at the Bell Center, journalists do their interviews as usual, but in a hallway, not in the locker room. In the evening, the Canadian will not open his locker room; instead, players will come to answer questions in the press conference room.
Looking back, it was clear that the 1000e match would not take place on 1er April in Nashville. But at the time, it was not so obvious.
With the Predators in town, Weber is a hot topic. “He’s been there a long time. If he can’t play his 1000e game here, doing it in Nashville would probably be special for him, ”said Ryan Ellis, his former colleague on the blue line.
No doubt the Predators would have underlined this 1000 as it shoulde match. This organization got it right when Weber returned to Nashville on January 3, 2017, almost succeeding in breaking through his usual phlegm.
Was the tribute ready?
A Predators public relations officer refuses to answer, claiming that the organization refuses to talk about hypothetical moments. “However, given Shea’s importance to the organization, one can assume that we had something special planned. ”
Here we are, therefore, at this 1000e match. Note that Weber did not comment on this file. Montreal journalists asked the Canadian to make him available for a conference on Monday, the morning of his 999e match. But Weber refused, preferring to wait until match day.
With all that has happened to delay this moment, we can understand it not to want to speak in advance!