Hockey is in Will Weber's blood. The Gaylord, Michigan native had always hoped he would follow in the footsteps of his late father, Canadian Dick Weber, who starred at Cornell University in the 1970s.
"For Canadians, hockey's the number one sport," says the 19-year-old Weber. "That's how I was brought up. I learned to love the game. My dream was to play at a higher level.?
At this time last year, Weber wasn?t exactly sure if he would ever get that opportunity. But by the time New Year rolled around, as Weber was manning the blueline in his senior season for his Gaylord High team, the hockey world began to take notice.
Scouts from every level ? junior, college and the pro ranks ? began attending Weber's game to get a glimpse of the skilled, 6'4", 205-pound defenseman.
"It was crazy," Weber says. "Until February of this year, I had no idea of what I was going to do as far as where I was going to go this year. "I was told that I was going to get drafted. I had no idea."
Weber quickly went from unknown quantity to a highly coveted prospect. He was the first overall draft pick in the United States Hockey League draft, selected by his current team the Chicago Steel and Weber also agreed to join the nationally ranked Miami-Ohio Redhawks in the fall of 2008. But of all the opportunities that came his way in 2007, none was greater than being selected 53rd overall by the Blue Jackets in the recent Entry Draft.
"It meant a lot to me," Weber says of hearing his name called in Columbus last June. "But at the same time, it means I have to work really hard to get to the next level."
Weber is doing just that with the Steel this season. Known as a physical defenseman that can move the puck up ice, the rookie has three goals and five assists through his first 16 junior games, while posting a combined plus-four rating in the Steel's two recent blowout wins over Green Bay and Indiana.
Weber's coach Steve Poapst, a former defenseman who played 307 games in the NHL, says the big blueliner is learning something every day that he is able to apply to his game.
"He's got a lot of untapped potential in his game," says Poapst. "In high school, that was a level of play where he could pretty much do whatever he wanted and get away with it. Here, we're stepping outside of that mode and he's realizing that he's not in high school anymore.
"He has to do his part, do it well and rely on his teammates to help him out in the process." Poapst has been impressed with Weber's willingness to get involved in the play, noting that he can be the first guy up the ice and also the first guy to get back and defend on any given shift. But Weber also shows desire and leadership, often getting mixed in a scrum to defend a teammate.
"He's not afraid," says Poapst. "He's basically a warrior when it comes down to it. His raw ability is unbelievable."
Weber says the jump to juniors from high school, where he scored 18 goals and added 20 assists in 24 games at Gaylord High last season, was indeed big. But he's appreciated the fact that players have more experience, which is bringing out the best in him.
"The speed and skill went up," Weber says of playing with the Steel. "It's more fun of a game because everyone knows what they're doing."
His ascent in hockey will continue next fall when he begins skating for the Redhawks. Weber says his three choices were narrowed down to Michigan State and Cornell, where both his dad and uncle played, and Miami Ohio. The decision came down to coaching and the Michigan native liked what he saw in Ohio with Miami's Enrico Blasi.
"When Enrico came in, he just turned the program around and turned them into a national contender every year," says Weber. "All of the coaches there, I just instantly felt a bond with them.
"I'm excited about getting the chance to go to work with them."
Weber is considering majoring in business when he gets to university. But if he continues his rapid progression on the ice, it appears that the corporate world might have to wait a few years for him to arrive as Weber fulfills that childhood dream of a life in hockey.