BROSSARD – In a fast-paced sport like hockey, athletes are required to make split second decisions at top speed, when even the slightest moment of self-doubt or hesitation can be the difference between victory and defeat.
For Canadiens forward Dale Weise, confidence has been the key to his hot start to the season and to rediscovering his love for the game. That confidence has helped Weise explode out of the gates offensively with seven goals in 14 games, more than Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Corey Perry combined.
As Weise himself describes it, feeling good in one’s environment is half the battle.
“When a hockey player gains confidence and is happy in his surroundings, both away from the rink and at the rink, and when you’re having fun, this is an easy game,” explained Weise, who is building off a breakout 2014-15 campaign that saw him double his previous career high in points.
Before arriving in Montreal during the 2013-14 season, Weise was expected to make his mark more with his physicality and tenacity than his scoring touch, having only eclipsed the 10-point mark once in his previous four seasons. This season however, Weise is carving out a new niche for himself.
“I put a lot of work into my game during the summer: shooting pucks, making plays around the net, working on my hands and skill plays. It’s the biggest thing I’ve worked on,” dished Weise, who is currently tied for fourth on the league’s goal scoring leaderboard through the first month of the campaign. “Early on in my career, I would have been mostly working on my conditioning, getting in the best shape possible, not doing the little things like working on my skills. I started doing that in the last couple of years and it’s started to pay off.”
Though Weise’s hot start might come as a surprise to some, Michel Therrien has always known about his speedy winger’s offensive upside.
“For [Weise] I think it’s about maturity. I think he took the next step in his career. He understands the game more and he understands what type of player he needs to be to have success. Obviously he’s been doing a great job since the start of the year,” said Therrien, who also noted that the Winnipeg, MB native’s newfound swagger is a big reason for his increased work load this season. “Right now he’s playing with a lot of confidence, and that’s why he’s on the power play. He’s doing a good job; he’s understanding the game and maturing. It’s a process and he’s brought his game to another level, which I was expecting.”
Brendan Gallagher, a fearless forward accustomed to battling defensemen seemingly twice his size, is a fellow believer in the theory that confidence breeds NHL success, both as an individual and with the man advantage.
“Confidence is big. Last year we got off to such a tough start, but I think this year we have the mindset that when we step on the ice, we’re going to score. Last year we had a lot of negative thoughts going through our minds,” said Gallagher, who noted that a power play devoid of confidence can potentially become powerless. “We haven’t changed all that much. There have been a few tweaks, a few changes, but I think it all starts with confidence.”
Adding a hot hand to the first power play unit has been one small tweak that’s helped the Habs go from 23rd in the league with a 16.5% efficiency in 2014-15 to fourth overall with a 24.5% effectiveness rating through 14 games this year.
“I think [Dale]’s done a good job. Weise is the kind of guy that no matter where you put him, he seems to contribute,” added Gallagher. “So I hope to see more of him on the power play. I like watching him out there.”
Jared Ostroff is a writer for canadiens.com.