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Nothing came easy for Predators' Weber

Friday, 12.19.2008 / 10:00 PM / Columns

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

His shot is loud and lethal. His bodychecks are noisy and downright nasty. Simply put, there's nothing quiet about the way Shea Weber plays. The 6-foot-3, 213-pounder from Sicamous, B.C., makes an impact at both ends of the rink.

In only his third NHL season, Weber roared to 10 goals in just 20 games. Through 30 games, Weber has scored 11 goals and 14 assists. He threatens to become the first defensemen to score 30 goals in a season since Kevin Hatcher had 34 for the Washington Capitals in 1992-93.

The story line, however, isn't one of instant success for the Nashville Predator.

"I wouldn't wish last season on anyone," said the 23-year-old, second-round pick in the 2003 Entry Draft. "I worked hard all summer and was so excited to start the season and then ..."

Weber thought he was ready to have a breakthrough season -- only to suffer a dislocated kneecap on just the fourth shift of a game against Colorado on opening night, when he went to bodycheck Avs winger Milan Hejduk. It's something he has trouble revisiting.

"My knee hit his kind of funny and I heard a 'Pop!' " Weber continued. "You definitely ask, 'Why me?' "

There were 17 games on the sideline with that injury. But the worst was yet to come.

"I was just starting to feel good and I'm out of the lineup again," Weber said of a high-ankle sprain that would cost another 11 games. "It's kind of tough to swallow, especially when you work hard to get back from the one injury and you're out again for another couple weeks. It's tough to get past that. It really takes a toll on you."

When the 2007-08 season was over, Weber's numbers fell from 17 goals and 40 points and a plus-13 the season before to 6 goals and 20 points and a minus-6. For Weber, that meant more hard work to get back to the future.

"Last year, he could never get any traction on his game," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "He's such a competitor. He didn't like sitting out ... and he disliked playing below his potential when he came back even more. He hated it.

"It's obvious he went back to Western Canada and worked hard all summer. In fact, I've never seen a player so determined to come back from an injury-filled season like that."

The fact that Weber clearly has a one-track mind that revolves around playing, competing and succeeding makes him even more valuable to the Predators.

"I hate practicing against him. Every single shot hurts," Predators goaltender Dan Ellis said.

Where did the heavy shot come from?

"I remember watching Al MacInnis shoot the puck," Weber recalled. "I remember watching his technique. His weight shift. His hands. Everything."

But the preparation didn't stop there. Truth is, Shea watched the offensive part of the games of Rob Blake and Ed Jovanovski and the defensive impact provided by players like Robyn Regehr and Jason Smith.

The determined young defenseman had to overcome one more little problem -- he was just 5-foot-9 when he went to a tryout held by the Prince George Raiders of the Western Hockey League when he was 15. It didn't go well and he was sent home. That just made Shea increase his desire and work ethic to show the skeptics he could excel at any level. He went back home and scored 9 goals and 33 assists in just 47 games for the Sicamous Eagles -- and a scout for Kelowna (also in the Western League) put Weber's name on the Rockets' list.

When Shea went to Kelowna to play junior hockey, he quickly became known as a winner. He helped the Rockets to three straight Memorial Cup tournaments, winning in 2004. He also won a gold medal for Canada at the 2005 World Junior Championship and last summer was part of Canada's World Championship team that went 9-0 and won the gold medal in Russia in the spring of 2007.

This is a kid who loves the comedy of Will Ferrell, the variety in rock music provided by Canada's Nickelback, fishing, boating, baseball and golf. He also loves to be ultra-competitive, pounding pucks with his brother and recording a shot speed of 78 mph when he was just 13. That speed has risen to the upper 90s now.

"Being under the pressure of junior hockey at a young age was something that helped me come a long way," Weber recalled. "Then my eyes were really opened up to a new kind of drive and determination once I turned pro."

Weber credits Milwaukee's coaching staff in the American Hockey League, headed by former NHL defenseman Claude Noel, with making him NHL-ready as Weber split his first pro season between the Predators and Admirals.

"Claude taught me to adjust to the pro game, where you're playing against bigger, stronger and faster players," Weber said. "He also taught me to be more competitive and make each shift more focused and intense. There's so much more preparation to the game at every level, especially in the NHL."

One step at a time, Weber has graduated with honors.

"On every level of hockey, once Shea started feeling comfortable, he's always excelled," Trotz said. "He reminds me of a young Rob Blake the way he can shoot the puck, the way he can step up into the play offensively and the way he can be a physical force on the defensive end.

"To me, Shea is the best young defenseman in the National Hockey League. He is going to be one of those defensemen you're going to talk about come Norris Trophy time every year for the next few years."

And you do that with a determined drive to overcome whatever obstacle that might get in your way like Shea Weber has.


Quote of the Day

I think I'm lucky to be here and you definitely don't take very many things for granted, if you take anything for granted. I definitely put my family and my wife and my close family in perspective, that they're the most important thing in the world. I want to do whatever I can to play hockey, but like I said, under the right circumstances.

— Stars forward Rich Peverley to "The Musers" radio show on The Ticket 1310 AM in Dallas